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Analysis gives first look inside Apple's A4 processor

May 10, 2010 // Young Choi, UBM TechInsights

The entire world is fascinated, again, by the latest mobile gadget from Apple, the iPad. Speculation and rumors about the Apple A4 applications processor inside the iPad abound. UBM TechInsights has analyzed the iPad and the A4 to establish some facts about the product and the processor. (UBM TechInsights is a division of United Business Media, the publisher of EE Times.)

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We've conducted product teardowns, detailed process technology and functional layout analyses, functional testing, and power consumption measurements of the iPad. Our library of analysis of Apple's productsstretching back to the original iPhoneenabled us to arrive at some concrete conclusions regarding the technology, power consumption and processor characteristics of this important element of Apple's latest product.

To help understand Apple's efforts in applications processors, it is useful to look at the history of Apple's applications processors from the original iPhone introduced in 2007 to the latest iPad.

Apple has been introducing two new mobile products per year (see Figure 1). Apple introduces iPod Touch and iPhone products in alternating fashion: iPhone > iPod Touch (first generation) > iPhone 3G > iPod Touch (second generation) -> iPhone 3GS -> iPod Touch (third generation) -> iPad.

Finding Apple's A4 foundry

Our silicon analysis on the applications processors revealed that Apple applies new technology to the iPod Touch family (which doesn't have cellular wireless function) before they apply the same technology to the iPhone family. Applications processors for the iPhone and the iPhone 3G both used the 90nm embedded DRAM process from Samsung.

When Apple switched to 65nm process technology for their own applications processor, they used this same technology for the iPod Touch second generation and then applied it to the iPhone 3GS. The same trend was seen in the iPod Touch third generation and the iPad. Among Apple systems, the iPod Touch third generation, not the iPad, was first to adopt a 45nm applications processor.

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