Posted: September 25, 2015

Contributed by Dick James, Daniel Yang and Phil Gamache

The following teardown blog contains some of our initial findings. For more in depth information on these topics and more, download the full iPhone 6s teardown report. 

It’s now a yearly ritual - go line up and get the new iPhone! This year Apple did multi-country launches, and allowed pre-orders to be picked up from the store, so no more driving down to the US and queuing for hours to be sure of getting one or two.

Our local Apple outlet opened at 8 am, so by 8.30 we had it in the lab and started the dismantling - the first order of priority is to get the new A9 chip off the board, decapsulated and then cross-sectioned to see who made it, and whether it’s made with the 14/16 nm finFET process that everyone in the tech media is expecting. 

What's in the A9?

During the launch event Apple told us there would be a “new transistor architecture” in the A9, which does sound like a euphemism for a switch to finFET (first image below). They also showed what looked like a die layout of the A9 - here’s a screen shot in the first thumbnail image below. With something as teasing as this, we couldn’t resist comparing it with the A8 (second thumbnail). In the A9, it looks like we have two blocks of SRAM in the lower centre, a dual-core CPU at the lower right, and possibly a six-core GPU at the upper right. And of course the M9 motion coprocessor is now apparently integrated onto the chip. That gives us the following view (see last thumbnail).


If one of those SRAM blocks is 4 MB, then we can take a guess as to the die size. In the A8 that block was ~4.9 mm2, so with a 80% linear shrink (64% area shrink) it would be ~3.1 mm2, or with a 70% shrink it would be ~2.4 mm2. If we compare the block size with the whole die, that gives us respective die sizes of ~93 mm2 or ~71 mm2, although given the fuzzy edges in the image, there is room for error in those numbers (the A8 was ~89 mm2).

Those die sizes seem to be in Apple’s preferred range in the earlier iPhones, so that gives us the assumption that there is now 8 MB L3 cache, up from the 4 MB in the A8. Comparison of SRAM areas in the CPU with our reference block also indicates there may be 3 MB of shared L2 cache in there.

Everything else is changed?

Other updates that we’re going to look at include the new cameras, the expanded RF frontend (since the new phone has more worldwide connection capability than the last one), the new display and 3D Touch screen controllers, and of course we want to know who won the sensor and power management design slots. We know that there is a new fingerprint sensor in there, and the display controller now uses the backlight as a flash for selfies.

In the last few phones Apple has gone for pretty decent cameras, to the extent that movies have been made on iPhones; and it looks like the new one is no exception, it was a big part of the sales pitch on the 9th September. It’s not often that “deep trench isolation” gets mentioned in such events, but with our expertise in image sensors we know that this is leading-edge technology, and we’ll be doing serious analysis on the new camera chip.

What have we found?

First off - Apple’s new A9 processor is the APL0898, and it’s ~8.7 x 10.7 mm, or ~94 mm2, which agrees with our 80% shrink guesstimates. Maybe that’s a reflection of the 14/16 nm processes only shrinking the transistor dimensions, not the metallization, maybe it means that Apple have crammed more in there (probably both). And it seems to confirm our postulated 8MB of L3 cache.

Now let's do inventory

  • 3 x Knowles KSM2 microphones
  • 2 x Apple/Cirrus Logic 338S1285 Audio IC (likely an iteration of the 338S1202 audio codec found in the iPhone 5s)
  • Apple 343S00014 3D Touch Controller?
  • Apple A9 APL0898 application processor
  • Apple/Cirrus Logic 338S00105 Audio IC
  • Apple/Dialog 338S00120 Power Management IC
  • Avago ACPM 7714 Multimode Power Amplifier
  • Avago AFEM-8030 Power Amplifier Module
  • Bosch Sensortec 367 LA 3-axis Accelerometer (likely BMA280)
  • Bosch Sensortec barometric pressure sensor BMP280 ?
  • Goertek GWM1 microphone
  • InvenSense MP67B 6-axis Gyroscope and Accelerometer Combo (also found in iPhone 6)
  • Micron D9SND (MT53B256M64D2NL) 2 GB LPDDR4 SDRAM
  • Murata 240 Front-End Module
  • Murata(?) Ne G98 RF Front-End Module
  • Murata(?) Yd G54 RF Front-End Module
  • NXP 1610A3 (likely an iteration of the 1610A1 found in the iPhone 5s and 5c)
  • NXP 66V10 NFC Controller (vs. 65V10 found in iPhone 6)
  • Qorvo/RFMD RF1347 Antenna Switch Module
  • Qorvo/TriQuint TQF6405 Power Amplifier Module
  • Qualcomm MDM9635M LTE Cat. 6 Modem (vs. the MDM9625M found in the iPhone 6)
  • Qualcomm PMD9635 Power Management IC
  • Qualcomm QFE1100 Envelope Tracking IC
  • Qualcomm WTR3925 Radio Frequency Transceiver
  • RF Micro Devices RF5150 Antenna Switch
  • SK Hynix H23QDG8UD1ACS Dual Die Package (DDP) 64Gb NAND Flash
  • Skyworks SKY77357 Power Amplifier Module (likely an iteration of the SKY77354)
  • Skyworks SKY77812 Power Amplifier Module
  • Texas Instruments 3539 LED backlight Retina display driver 
  • Texas Instruments 65730AOP Power Management IC
  • Texas Instruments 6BB27
  • Texas Instruments SN2400AB0 Charger IC retained from the iPhone 6
  • Universal Scientific Industrial 339S00043 Wi-Fi Module

This is where we run out of ID time - we have to post! We think we’ve got most of the chips in there.

What have we learned?

The APL0898 size fits with an 80% shrink on the A8, and seems to have 8 MB cache - and our first look leads us to believe that our sample is from Samsung. 

For the first time we have seen, Micron has put some memory into the iPhone (though iFixit’s sample has Samsung), and it’s up to 2 GB for the first time for an Apple phone. As expected, they are dual-sourcing (at least) the flash - we have Hynix, iFixit has Toshiba.


When it comes to the sensors, we have the same Invensense/Bosch motion sensor duopoly that we had in the iPhone 6/6 Plus. Goertek has maintained its mircrophone slot whereas AAC has lost its place to Knowles. 


The wireless part of the phone is again dominated by the Murata/Avago/Qorvo tripoly (Qorvo is the new name for the Triquint/RF Micro Devices merger) for the RF front end, and at least in this part of the world, Qualcomm has the broadband sockets.

3D Touch screen

We haven’t looked at the 3D Touch screen yet, that will have to wait until we have looked through the chips, and probably until we’ve delved inside the iPhone 6s Plus. Judging by iFixit’s initial exam, it’s a good bit chunkier than last year’s model, weighing in at 60 gm vs. 45 for the iPhone 6.

More to come next week... 

Additional technical information

This teardown blog contains some of our initial findings on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. For more in depth information on these topics and more, download the full iPhone 6s teardown report. 

Here at Chipworks we call today “Apple Day” as groups of our employees volunteer to do everything from logistics and teardown to high-end device deprocessing, imaging and analysis. This year's crew that volunteered are from left to right; Phil, Daniel, Stephen, Dick, Lee, Michelle (aka Vanna), Siamak, Ben, Eric and Trevor. Creds also go out to Jeff and Teressa. Thank you all very much for your energy, your work ethic and your interest. You guys rock.