Apple’s A5 chip remains shrouded in mystery; A6 likely to be quad-core, iPad-only

“Linley Gwennap, senior editor for Microprocessor Report, my favorite technology magazine, penned an intriguing item over the long weekend, which I am just now getting to, regarding his examination of the characteristics of Apple’s’A5′ chip used in the company’s iPad 2,” Tiernan Ray reports for Barron’s.

“Apple outpaces Nvidia’s graphics circuitry in [the] ‘Tegra 2’ chip, in terms of raw 3D performance, which is important for gaming on the devices, writes Gwennap,” Ray reports. “That comes from having a graphics processing unit on the A5 that’s 31-square-millimeters — as large as the entire surface area of all the digital logic on the Tegra 2.”

“The other large point Gwennap makes is that the roadmap for Apple’s chips may become more complex,” Ray reports. “It’s safe to assume Apple will make the next processor, presumably the A6, as a quad core part, sometime next year, in order to compete [with] quad core chips from Nvidia and others. But that chip will likely be too hot and too large to run in an iPhone, he surmises.”

Ray reports, “Gwennap notes that about 33 square millimeters of the A5 is extra circuitry that can’t be accounted for. It’s not the CPU, it’s not the GPU, it’s not any kind of integrated functions, such as wireless controller logic, etc., as all of that stuff is still external to the processor, as it was in the A4. And so, ‘Without information from Apple, determining all the reasons for the A5′s larger die is impossible,’ he concludes.”

Much more in the full article here.


      1. ;)))))))

        But if to talk seriously, these “unknown” 33 square millimetres could be implementation of super complex, granular-approach, frequency/voltage management that Apple could have implemented from P.A.Semi (bought in 2008) technologies/patents.

        That technology allows device all of transistors on the chip into 30 000 granules/groups of small number of transistors in terms of these having separate volume/frequency, what allows dramatically lower power consumption, comparing to typical solutions like lowering frequency or switching off complete blocks/cores of SoC. Such scheme might allow significant space.

  1. The extra 33 is where Apple stores your every location and every contact you ever made.

    Just joking. I thought I was on an Android site for a moment.

  2. Maybe this is additional processing space for running Osx?
    If the a5 works in an iPhone it probably has the legs to last for a few years. We don’t even know if it is too hot for the phone format yet.

  3. So he’s guessing the A6 will be quad-core just because analysts think “more is better” and he can’t explain why the A5 has extra space? But yet he claims a quad-core would be too hot?

    Can MDN please start categorizing/tagging these types of articles as “Rampant Speculation by Those Who Know Not”?

    1. The A6 will probably come in multiple variants, based on the Cortex-A15 MPCore (as opposed to Cortex-A9 which is the donor reference for Apple’s A5).

      The Cortex-A15 can have 1-4 cores: the mobile versions will probably remain dual-ciore, but Apple TV could easily be a candidate for a quad-core variant as could a future version of Airport-based products assuming that they still exist.

  4. The iPad 3 damn well better be quad core. Every other tablet will surely hop on that bandwagon by 2012 with a few arriving even before then. Apple can’t be bringing it up the rear with outdated technology if they wish to remain the leader.

    If the iPad 3 isn’t quad core it will be the laughing stock of the industry.

    1. Apple has proven that spec sheets don’t matter. Afterall, the Xoom has better “specs”, yet it underperforms.

      If you buy your computers at Best Buy, these things might be important to you. But if you know a thing or two about computers, you go by real world performance, no matter what the spec sheet says.

  5. Apple isn’t done with the A5 proc yet. Have you guys heard of the “smart router?” 😉 The Apple Airport Extreme is getting a make over. It Is getting a brain. 😉 All part of the iCloud eco system.

  6. “… about 33 square millimeters of the A5 is extra circuitry that can’t be accounted for.”

    Makes me think about a story my dad told me back in the radio & record days.

    RCA came out with a new radio that did very well. Unmarked and unexplained was a small jack in the back. After sales were doing quite well, they introduced a 45 record player at a great price. No speakers or amp. But a cord with a plug that connected to the radio they were selling.

    Sold tons of them.

  7. i don’t see a crying need for four cores ( but I wouldn’t complain if they were used in a new iPad). Doubling the screen resolution would be way cooler.

    More functionality would be better than raw speed. How about a new file format so you can publish interactive content from Pages and have it download from a webpage to iBooks?

  8. perhaps I am old fashioned but is it meaninful having a dual or quadcore processors in iPhone and ipod touch? I think these small devices need just morw RAM 🙂

  9. Good grief, you people are idiots. Everyone knows what the extra space is for. THAT IS WHERE THEY STORE THE SMOKE! The smoke is the most important part of any microprocessor. Try letting the smoke out of one, and see how well it works.

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