Patent knowledge. Technology expertise. Market understanding.

Patent knowledge. Technology expertise. Market understanding.

Patent knowledge. Technology expertise. Market understanding.

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A First Look at Apple’s A5 Processor

The much anticipated iPad 2 drew similar line-ups at the local mall or big box electronics store as the first generation device.  What was different was the lack of a separate pre-order line so it made our “device acquisition” job a little more difficult. However, with our hands on two of these devices we were able to start the reverse engineering analysis on the new A5 chip as soon as we got back to the lab.  Here’s the initial results – this teardown will be expanded as more analysis comes out of our circuit and process technology labs, so RSS or subscribe to us today.

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Following up on our last blog on the mystery A5/APL0398 processor fabbed in 2009, we now have the real sample.  We can see the package markings are different, and a quick look says that we have an APL0498 processor, and 512 MB of Elpida DRAM within.

The Real A5 Package from the iPad 2

The x-ray images show us that we have the usual package-on-package (PoP) structure, with two memory chips in the top part of the PoP, and the APL0498 processor on the lower half.

Top-View X-ray Image of Apple A5

The two rows of dense black dots on the outside of the image are the solder balls from the memory chips in the top half of the package (connecting with the bottom half), and the less dense dots are the solder balls on the bottom half of the package connecting the A5 chip to the iPad board below.  If you squint really hard you can see smaller dots about five rows in from the edge which are the flip-chip solder balls on the A5 die – and they take up quite a large proportion of the area, showing that this is a good-sized die.

The die photo and die mark are shown here:

Die Photo of Apple's A5 Chip from the iPad2

APL0498E01 Die Mark of Apple A5 Chip

The x-ray is right – the A5 die is more than twice as large as the A4, at 10.1 x 12.1 mm (122.2 mm2), vs 7.3 x 7.3 mm (53.3 mm2) – here’s the A4 chip for comparison:

Apple A4 Die Photo

Given that the A5 is a dual-ARM core, and has more graphics capability than the A4, more than doubling the size is to be expected, but it’s also a clue that this is still made in 45-nm technology.  You can’t tell much from top-metal images, but in a couple of days we’ll have a de-layered sample, and then we can take a closer look and compare floorplans.  We’ll also have a cross-section and we can confirm or deny the rumour that the A5 chip is fabbed by TSMC, not Samsung.