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Update – 32-nm Apple A5 in the Apple TV 3 – and an iPad 2!

Contributed by Jim Morrison, Gary Tomkins, and Dick James

Apple is closely guarded about its product roadmap – check.

Apple leaks out the tiniest of tidbits to get the twitterverse  going, but (historically) has always had “just one more thing” to keep it going – check.

Apple getting easier to predict? Check. . . or maybe not.  Maybe they do have some secrets up their sleeves.

On March 15th, Apple released the New iPad, affectionately known as the iPad 3. With all of the hype and focus on the new iPad, the third generation Apple TV was somewhat overlooked and did not receive the same kind of attention that its tablet cousin did. We at Chipworks got around to examining the Apple TV in our labs, and wow, did Apple roll out a surprise; a new A5 processor. No, not the A5X that garnered so much attention in the iPad 3, but a new A5 processor.

Apple APL2498 from new Apple TV

Apple A5 APL0498 from iPhone 4s

Apple A5 APL0498 from iPhone 4s

The advanced media was calling this new A5 a single core application processor, with justification, since Apple themselves on their product specification page say that the new TV uses a single core application processor. Sometimes, when we get inside technology, we find that things are not always what they are supposed to be. The new A5 processor die is not a single core processor, but contains a dual core processor.  Either Apple is only utilizing one core or they are binning parts. Parts binning is a common process in semiconductors where devices are segregated (binned) based on meeting a subset of the overall requirements,  in this case they could disable the “bad” core, this increases the usable die per wafer, lowering the cost.

APL2498 from 3rd gen Apple TV Poly Die photo

APL2498 from Third Generation Apple TV Poly Die Photo

Aside from being a dual core processor, there was one more big surprise for us at Chipworks. Not only did Apple roll out a new processor that was not what it was advertised to be, but it also snuck in a new process technology for the manufacturing of this new A5. The previous generation A5, part number APL0498, was manufactured on Samsung Semiconductors’ 45 nm LP CMOS process. This new A5 processor is manufactured on Samsung’s new 32 nm high-k metal gate, gate first, LP CMOS process technology.

The new A5 measures nearly 41% smaller than its predecessor, coming in at 69.6 mm². Process shrinking not only reduce costs by fitting more dies on a wafer, but it also improves performance and lowers power consumption.

A5 Arm Core Comparison

A5 ARM A9 Dual-Core Comparison – 40% Shrink (Approximately)

This is a very complex chip for a relatively low volume part (for Apple); one would think they have greater plans for this new A5 variant. Does this give any hints about what might be in the next generation iPhone, or a cost reduction path for the current iPhone 4S?

And, lo! and behold, when we looked at a new iPad 2 (v4), inside it was the APL2498; presumably with both A9 cores enabled this time.

Apple A5 APL2498 from Apple TV 3

Apple A5 APL2498 from new Ipad 2 v4

Now we’re checking our recent 4S phones..

Reports on the Apple A5 Processor and Samsung 32 nm Technology

Apple A5 (APL2498) Single Active Core Processor (from Apple TV 3)  Functional Analysis Report

Samsung 32 nm HKMG LP CMOS Process Structural Analysis Report