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Apple creates own CPU to power iPad

Apple creates own CPU to power iPad

According to iFixit, "this particular chip came into existence in Week 40 of 2009, which happens to be end of September / early October."

As we reported earlier, Apple has finally launched its long rumoured tablet, the iPad. In most respects, the device is very similar to what the rumours claimed – however, perhaps the most intriguing part of the design is that the iPad will be powered by an Apple CPU.

Called the Apple A4, Steve Jobs referred to it only briefly in yesterday’s keynote speech, confirming it was clocked at a nice, round 1GHz and that the A4 is a system-on-a-chip with a CPU, GPU, I/0 and memory controller. A picture of the chip appears in Apple’s video for the iPad, and iFixit – the firm responsible for the teardowns you see of new gadgets – has some slivers of information on it, and a nice HD still.

Apple all but announced its intention to create its own chips when it purchased P.A. Semi in April 2008 and then became an ARM licensee. P.A. Semi was known for producing low power chips based on the Power Architecture (which has found its way into many devices, including the PPE part of the PS3’s Cell CPU). In addition to P.A. Semi, Apple also hired Bob Drebin who was the Chief Technology Officer of AMD and ATI’s Graphics Products Group.

It seems unlikely that Apple has invented something completely new with the A4, and while P.A. Semi’s experience was with the Power architecture, the iPhone, with which the iPad has much in common, uses an ARM CPU. It’s likely then that the A4 uses an ARM core – rumours reported by Bright Side of News and iFixit suggest that it’s the Cortex-A9 MPCore. This is the same ARM core used by Nvidia in its upcoming Tegra 2 SOC design (and it means our guess on Twitter that the iPad would be Tegra 2 powered is pretty close!) Little is known about the A4’s graphics, although as with the iPhone 3G and 3GS, it will be compliant with Open GL ES.

At 1GHz, the A4 is 400MHz faster than the ARM CPU in the iPhone 3GS, so it’s perhaps not surprising that videos of the iPad in action show an interface that’s snappy and apps that are quick and responsive.

Obviously there are still many questions to answer about the A4, but its appearance in a device aimed at the heart of the netbook market – currently dominated by the Atom CPU – is sure to make Intel feel nervous. Are you happy Apple is now in the chip business? Or should it have gone with x86? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

21 Comments

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yakyb 28th January 2010, 11:24 Quote
i don't know why but i really want this thing to fail

I think initial sales will be good but as soon as people start to realise its no more than a Larger IPhone with no capability for word processing / excel / other real work activities then sales will start to drop to something that has a keyboard attached
Landy_Ed 28th January 2010, 11:47 Quote
I think using their new A4 is something of a mistake in a device this size, not so much for the processing power element but the fact that it severely limits the scope of the device capability by taking it down the OS route it has. Much better, IMO, to put an OSX-lite on it with all the touch features & a new front-end gui, which would at least allow a larger & more immediate software base for users.

As for Apple making processors, I think they're rather late to the party really. If they'd bought a licence to continue development of the 68x series processors then yeah, but this far down the line it requires a massive investment to be able to take it forward & no, I don't think Intel will be nervous about this at all - more likely they will respond with a tie-in involving HP or Dell, with a Tablet PC derivative running on Windows 7 (which also already supports multitouch). Good battle, but I think Wintel will ultimately win this one. If Apple had gone with a device about 40-50% smaller, different story, but you can't put this in your pocket and you cant balance it & read comfortably on your lap or on a desk so won't compete with either their own iphone or the netbook properly.
l3v1ck 28th January 2010, 11:54 Quote
I imagine the cost of making their own x86 CPU would have been too high, the Atom is useless and the Nano doesn't play well with non VIA chipsets. ARM was always going to be the way forward, especially when battery life is such a big issue.
Tyrmot 28th January 2010, 12:02 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by yakyb
I think initial sales will be good but as soon as people start to realise its no more than a Larger IPhone with no capability for word processing / excel / other real work activities then sales will start to drop to something that has a keyboard attached

Doesn't it come with some kind of iWork with these capabilities?

It make sense for them to ship their own chip I think. Presumably they have forecast selling a considerable number of these so why keep themselves beholden to someone else's silicon? Personally though I remain pretty skeptical about this one... time will tell. Let's see what the competition can offer first.
Hardware150 28th January 2010, 12:24 Quote
Did anyone see the newsnight report on the iPad last night? They had Stephen Fry saying how good it was, and people on saying it would do the same for ebooks that the iPod did for mp3's. There was no hint of the criticism I hear in the community,

Just for that reason, I think the average iPod owner who is interested in books will probably buy one, or the people who just blindly bought an iPhone because it was by apple, will probably buy one too (if they have the funds).
Shame I can't think of anything to do with it that i couldn't already have done on my psp.
Landy_Ed 28th January 2010, 12:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by l3v1ck
I imagine the cost of making their own x86 CPU would have been too high, the Atom is useless and the Nano doesn't play well with non VIA chipsets. ARM was always going to be the way forward, especially when battery life is such a big issue.

If that's in response to me, I said 68x, not x86. Something of a typo, I mean the motorola 680x0 processors that the macs originally ran on. Like I say, they've entered that part of the industry far too late to offer any real threat to Intel.
Sheiken 28th January 2010, 13:13 Quote
I for one might consider exchanging my unibody macbook for this device, but I will have to see it in the flesh first!
StoneyMahoney 28th January 2010, 13:40 Quote
The hardware is quite interesting, nice to see the ARM core pushing further into the market. Apple have always been good at interfaces and it seems this is a good follow-up to the work they've done on the iPod Touch and iPhone. However...

I won't buy one, no matter how well it does what it's supposed to do. I'd rather not have Apple telling me what I can and can't do with my own computer, thank you very much.
l3v1ck 28th January 2010, 13:50 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Landy_Ed
If that's in response to me, I said 68x, not x86.
It was in response to the last paragraph of the article.
leveller 28th January 2010, 14:20 Quote
I'm putting my name down for 2. One of me and one for the wife.

The chip and the way it is created is only an issue if you need that extra freedom. Me and the wife have that extra freedom on our other gadgets. This will be purely for social, convenience and 'some' business use.
TSR2 28th January 2010, 16:54 Quote
I still can't see any point to this or any other tablet PC...
wuyanxu 28th January 2010, 18:21 Quote
i don't get why would anyone get this instead of a netbook. netbook has a real keyboard, a netbook can multi-task, a netbook can run other programs don't need jailbreak, a netbook can do everything apple tablet does, including reading e-book if you hold it side ways.


as for the Apple A4 processor, i think the rumours on ARM's IP Cortex-A9 or A8 are very accurate. there is no reason for them to port the iPhone OS to Power architecture if they can simply use ARM's IP.

what people usually don't understand is that ARM doesn't really make the processors, they make the intellectual properties which they take a share in every product sold with its IP. so even if the silicon is made by PA Semi, it doesn't make any difference if it's made by Samsung or Intel's fab.

also, Apple's keynote, Jobs said creating their own processor allowed them to do all kind of optimisations. i call bullcrap, unless they make the processor from instruction level, there is not much to optimise. all they've done is to cut down cost by creating a device specific SoC solution.
The_Beast 28th January 2010, 18:45 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by wuyanxu
i don't get why would anyone get this instead of a netbook. netbook has a real keyboard, a netbook can multi-task, a netbook can run other programs don't need jailbreak, a netbook can do everything apple tablet does, including reading e-book if you hold it side ways.


as for the Apple A4 processor, i think the rumours on ARM's IP Cortex-A9 or A8 are very accurate. there is no reason for them to port the iPhone OS to Power architecture if they can simply use ARM's IP.

what people usually don't understand is that ARM doesn't really make the processors, they make the intellectual properties which they take a share in every product sold with its IP. so even if the silicon is made by PA Semi, it doesn't make any difference if it's made by Samsung or Intel's fab.

also, Apple's keynote, Jobs said creating their own processor allowed them to do all kind of optimisations. i call bullcrap, unless they make the processor from instruction level, there is not much to optimise. all they've done is to cut down cost by creating a device specific SoC solution.

I'd rather have Eee touch. $450 for 8.9" touch screen, full keyboard (eee size :(), 1 GB ram, 16GB SSD (with a free 16GB SD card and 20 GB online storage)
Nikumba 28th January 2010, 20:11 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by l3v1ck
I imagine the cost of making their own x86 CPU would have been too high, the Atom is useless and the Nano doesn't play well with non VIA chipsets. ARM was always going to be the way forward, especially when battery life is such a big issue.

Assuming of course Intel would grant them a licence, as I believe if you want to make an x86 CPU you have to get a licence from Intel
l3v1ck 28th January 2010, 20:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nikumba
Assuming of course Intel would grant them a licence, as I believe if you want to make an x86 CPU you have to get a licence from Intel
Very true.
wuyanxu 28th January 2010, 20:42 Quote
watching the keynote and the NFS Shift part seems very bad quality. looks to me just higher resolution of iPhone 3GS version.

which i am thinking it's using the same graphics processor as 3GS? not Tegra?
leslie 28th January 2010, 23:05 Quote
I fear many will see this as a way to get a cheap Mac.


Worse though. the more I read, see and hear about this thing, the more I think it will fail.

Locked OS?
What are they thinking, they have created the old Apple commercial... A bunch of drones.

Sorry, but look at the issues with locked Iphones and apps that has already going on. Do you really want your entire computer like that? A phone will at least work as a phone, but given Apple's penchant for just dropping support for old hardware, what happens if in 2 years they do an update on this thing and decide no more support?

Edit:
This is perfect...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQnT0zp8Ya4&feature=player_embedded#
Ape 28th January 2010, 23:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by leslie
Sorry, but look at the issues with locked Iphones and apps that has already going on.

I must have had my head in the sand, what's been going on?
Cepheus 29th January 2010, 21:35 Quote
This is very disappointing. There I was, thinking that Apple had done something revolutionary, lo-and-behold they've just packaged the same processor that was used in the Nexus One, a small graphics card and a memory controller in a chip. Bo-ring.
Shagbag 30th January 2010, 23:15 Quote
I thought the C4 was a SoC no different from NVIDIA's save for the usual Apple Mkting dept smoke and mirrors.
brave758 31st January 2010, 19:58 Quote
Leslie, great link lol
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