Linley Group analyst Linley Gwennap says in a newsletter that while Apple hasn’t disclosed what CPU it used in its new A6 processor, recent information indicates that Apple designed its own CPU rather than licensing a Cortex-A9 or next-generation Cortex-A15 from ARM. He notes that the fact that Apple requires iPhone 5 apps to be recompiled to a new architecture variant called ARMv7s indicates that the A6 does not use the same Cortex-A9 CPUs that are in the previous Apple A5 processor, with the hardware watchdog and analysis website anandtech.com reporting that the A6 uses an internally designed CPU.
Gwennap says he believes the custom A6 CPU is similar in complexity and performance to Cortex-A15 and to the Krait CPU that appears in Qualcomm’s newest processors, and deduces that in order to attain Apple’s claim of a 2x performance gain over the iPhone 4S (which uses the Apple A5 processor), he expects the A6 contains two CPU cores clocking at roughly 1.2GHz, a clock speed speed is lower than what competing A15-class CPUs achieve, presumably to save power, reasoning that as a result, the iPhone 5 will probably fall short of other high-end smartphones in raw CPU performance, although the same has been true of previous iPhone generations.
iPhone 5 Tops Benchmark Chart – Seemingly Beats Phones, Tablets
However, The Register’s Tony Smith reports that Apple’s upcoming iPhone 5 is one of the fastest ARM devices out there, beating even the Asus-made Google Nexus 7, at least if benchmark data posted online are to be believed. Smith notes that an entry in the Geekbench database spotted over the weekend shows the new handset clocking a score of 1601, with the readout indicating a dual-core ARMv7 CPU running at 1GHz and equipped with 1GB of memory. That compares to the Nexus 7′s score of 1591 and the Asus Transformer Prime TF201′s 1497, so the iPhone 5 result, if genuine, shows the handset beating tablets. So does Samsung’s Galaxy S III, but its score, 1560, is still behind that of the purported iPhone 5 result.
Apple Already Working On A Next-Generation CPU
Linley Gwennap also speculates, but hasn’t confirmed, that the A6 is likely being manufactured by Samsung using its currenty leading-edge 32nm process, but this has not been confirmed, and observes that while Apple has been licensing CPU cores from ARM for its previous processors, the company’s interest in CPU design dates back to its $278 million acquisition of PA Semi in April 2008, and provides a backgrounder on how that led to development of the A6 SoC.
Now that it has completed its first CPU design, Gwennap thinks Apple is not likely to stop there, and that to keep pace with competitors using ARMs own cores, Apple will have to crank out a new CPU design every couple of years. He’s convinced that Apple is already working on a next-generation CPU, likely to implement the 64-bit ARMv8 instruction set, but says it probably won’t debut until 2014, projecting that for its 2013 products, Apple will have to rely on the A6 CPU design, although perhaps in a quad-core configuration and with a higher-performance GPU.
Editor’s note: Apple also has extra impetus to get alternate silicon suppliers such as Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) on stream. The Korea Times’ Kim Yoo-chul reports that Samsung is asking Apple to pay more to use its mobile application processors produced at its plant in Austin, Texas, and claiming that it is the only firm that can guarantee on-time delivery, output commitment and better pricing for mobile application processors. However, TSMC looks to be first with 20nm processors, and Apple has reportedly dispatched some 200 engineers to help TSMC get up to speed manufacturing Apple A-series silicon.
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