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  • Inside Apple's New A4


    Arguably the most notable iPad technology is the chip that powers it, the new A4. The iPad's 1GHz system-on-a-chip, clocked at 1 GHz (compared to about 600MHz for the iPhone 3GS) was designed by Apple itself, through its acquisition of chipmaker PA Semiconductor. The processor's speed, along with the advanced power-management that allows Apple to brag that the iPad will be able to play 10 hours of continuous HD video without recharging, could be a significant selling point for the new device as it establishes its space in the marketplace.

    The A4, as a system-on-a-chip (SoC), combines the CPU, graphics processor, memory management and other components such as the I/O controller on a single piece of silicon. Though Apple has not released detailed specs on the chip, observers have gathered details out of reports from suppliers, leaks and a healthy dose of conjecture.

    Most observers are certain that the A4's CPU is ARM's Cortex-A9 MPCore, which is also used on the Qualcomm Snapdragon, a popular chipset used in smartphones and netbooks. The graphics processor is believed to be the ARM Mali 50 Series, and the entire ASIC was built by Samsung - whose process management is credited with the low power draw - based on designs by Apple, using its PA Semi brain trust. The result is an SoC that is substantially similar to the NVIDIA Tegra, with (at least claimed) better performance, especially relative to its power draw.

    So when Apple CEO Steve Jobs described the A4 as "custom silicon that we designed for this product," he was certainly speaking the truth, though it may have left the impression that the entire chip was homegrown. Though it uses technology from other manufacturers, Apple's design of this SoC potentially gives it the edge over smartphone competitors, and its proprietary nature means Apple can keep it all for themselves. As Richard Doherty, director of technology consulting firm Envisioneering Group, told CNET this week, Apple has an edge over companies like Qualcomm, Freescale, and others that license ARM chips:
    There's nothing that I can see from ARM licensees or Intel that could challenge the power-per-watt, the power-per-buck, the power-per-cubic-millimeter of size. Apple is going to have quite a performance, battery efficiency, and cost advantage over the competition.
    Speculation has already begun that the A4 will be at the heart of a fourth-generation iPhone, which is expected to be released this summer.

    image via Apple
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Inside Apple's New A4 started by Paul Daniel Ash View original post
    Comments 23 Comments
    1. adp's Avatar
      adp -
      1GHz will be nice for an iPhone 4G...but it will only be enough to match the Nexus One. It's always better to stay on top of the competition than to simply match it. I'm hoping Apple gets up to speed after the disappointment we all went through yesterday.
    1. LSZ33's Avatar
      LSZ33 -
      I agree that this chip in the iPhone 4G will be great. I don't see them trying to top the nexus one when they can already match it. The thing that will set it apart from the competitors is that the iphone does what other phones do, better... even with all of the iphone's shortcomings.
    1. Ticko's Avatar
      Ticko -
      im highly against SoC's yes it is clocked at 1ghz but running a pad/tablet on an SoC is nuts. It has to run mem management and gpu's and processing...thats a lot for just 1ghz. I mean 95% of all gpu's (graphics processing units)have between 750mhz and 1ghz just for themselves and a separate cpu clocked at 2ghz+ and separate mem control for real sticks of memory, and are needed to play hd rich content and opengl products. also an HD YouTube video is not High Definition....I dont care what anyone says...unless the pad can play bluray it doesnt play hidef. i also think that is why the pad is forced to run an iphone os because anyform of leapord would not be able to work as smoothly on this SoC. the reason why it is so fast and so smooth is because the OS is dumbed down enough to work reasonably smooth on a SoC in a iPhone. just having a blown up iPod/iPhone with a blown up SoC will increase the performance/battery life on an iPhone os but lets see how it handles anything else. Most netbooks use SoC's aswell but theirs are clocked at 2ghz+ and play hd content on them is still iffy at best. And god knows i would never want to play any MODERN openGl game on a netbook id have to turn all my settings way down and pray that it doesnt skip too badly. what makes the most sense to me is the LED screens put onto the pad..that will clear any content up to look HD in my opinion. So in short...if they wanted to make the pad a lil cooler they coulda put a REAL chip in and made it slightly thicker fit a opengl standard video card (nvidia preferably) and stuck with flash memory and then that thing would be sweet probably run leapord aswell.
    1. -=viper=-'s Avatar
      -=viper=- -
      am I the only one who wonder how much RAM the iPad has?
      I know officially it doesn't support multitasking - but since we have backgrounder ill be happy to know it has at least 1gb of ram.. no?
    1. MetallicaFan1991's Avatar
      MetallicaFan1991 -
      Just because the iPad can play HD video won't make it the selling point, the formats it can play will suck like on the iPhone. No Coreplayer for iPhone users and most people I know hate converting video.
      If it's anything to go on since last year, I think Apple will, maybe, might put a 1Ghz processor in it. I'm having my doubts now. The fanbase and sales has gone to Apples head.
    1. Krak4211's Avatar
      Krak4211 -
      I am also wondering the same thing! If it has 1gb ram then it could handle background processes easily! I hope someone can JB this thing cause thats going to be the only reason I buy it!
    1. JedixJarf's Avatar
      JedixJarf -
      Pfft, my 3gs has no problem running 10 apps in the background, with the A4 it would fly.
    1. UKFitch21's Avatar
      UKFitch21 -

      Nuff said
    1. hollow0's Avatar
      hollow0 -
      I would like to see a 1 GHz or higher processor with 512 or higher ram/rom. Seeing how there was no multitasking on that iPad worries me about OS 4.0 will it even have it? :/ I'm really hoping things will get better in June/July.
    1. LittleJob's Avatar
      LittleJob -
      Quote Originally Posted by UKFitch21 View Post

      Nuff said
      exactly..
    1. Home Skillet's Avatar
      Home Skillet -
      Quote Originally Posted by UKFitch21 View Post

      Nuff said
    1. iPhone3G[S]'s Avatar
      iPhone3G[S] -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ticko View Post
      im highly against SoC's yes it is clocked at 1ghz but running a pad/tablet on an SoC is nuts. It has to run mem management and gpu's and processing...thats a lot for just 1ghz. I mean 95% of all gpu's (graphics processing units)have between 750mhz and 1ghz just for themselves and a separate cpu clocked at 2ghz+ and separate mem control for real sticks of memory, and are needed to play hd rich content and opengl products. also an HD YouTube video is not High Definition....I dont care what anyone says...unless the pad can play bluray it doesnt play hidef. i also think that is why the pad is forced to run an iphone os because anyform of leapord would not be able to work as smoothly on this SoC. the reason why it is so fast and so smooth is because the OS is dumbed down enough to work reasonably smooth on a SoC in a iPhone. just having a blown up iPod/iPhone with a blown up SoC will increase the performance/battery life on an iPhone os but lets see how it handles anything else. Most netbooks use SoC's aswell but theirs are clocked at 2ghz+ and play hd content on them is still iffy at best. And god knows i would never want to play any MODERN openGl game on a netbook id have to turn all my settings way down and pray that it doesnt skip too badly. what makes the most sense to me is the LED screens put onto the pad..that will clear any content up to look HD in my opinion. So in short...if they wanted to make the pad a lil cooler they coulda put a REAL chip in and made it slightly thicker fit a opengl standard video card (nvidia preferably) and stuck with flash memory and then that thing would be sweet probably run leapord aswell.
      It's not a tablet/netbook/laptop...

      It was designed to handle specific tasks, from the keynote it does gaming very well, especially with what EA showed off. I won't truly know until I get my hands on one. Modern console games on a hand held even close to that size won't happen for some time, when it does, every one will complain because the games will be 10yrs old at that point.

      Quote Originally Posted by UKFitch21 View Post

      Nuff said
      so you are saying it has a 2.4Ghz possessor in it?
    1. DiscusChris's Avatar
      DiscusChris -
      Think of how fun it will be to put an emulator on this and play old nes/snes/gba games...

      Lets go Cydia!
    1. Hiram85's Avatar
      Hiram85 -
      Quote Originally Posted by DiscusChris View Post
      Think of how fun it will be to put an emulator on this and play old nes/snes/gba games...

      Lets go Cydia!
      exactly, thats the only reason i would buy an ipad, for all the jailbreaking ...lol
    1. punklove's Avatar
      punklove -
      Quote Originally Posted by UKFitch21 View Post

      Nuff said
      great pic!

      yea, the ipad is ridiculous and didnt meet expectations... still doesn't mean i don't want one. . . it's an absolutely frivolous device, but it's still cooler than anything else on the market for $500 (and please prove me wrong with links) [time to sell the hackintosh mini9-and maybe the old ibookg3. . .]

      I was really hoping for an integrated SD slot, front facing camera, stereo speakers, non-iphone OS/style, etc.. . .

      simple fact is that thank god they made it and released it- I mean, if we keep complaining, and someone with time/skill hacks this thing, who knows, Apple might make it better-

      My #1 favorite thing that APPLE DID 100% right on it- Allowing user to select their own desktop/springboard background- I F*'in hate the stock iphone screen.
    1. Clem-Clone's Avatar
      Clem-Clone -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ticko View Post
      So in short...if they wanted to make the pad a lil cooler they coulda put a REAL chip in and made it slightly thicker fit a opengl standard video card (nvidia preferably) and stuck with flash memory and then that thing would be sweet probably run leapord aswell.
      I think you missed something more important why they didn't go that way; power.
      the reason they used some parts of std. systems and merged it with their own, is for battery management.

      A REAL chip wold be a power-hog.

      Apple has been fooling around with MCM's (Multi-Chip Modules for sometime. I worked their in R&D in the early 90's, and did a fair amount of investigative work with them and the DARPA/MCM consortium n Austin when MCM's were hot. This is a very natural progression, and expect to see more.
    1. djnikk's Avatar
      djnikk -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ticko View Post
      im highly against SoC's yes it is clocked at 1ghz but running a pad/tablet on an SoC is nuts. It has to run mem management and gpu's and processing...thats a lot for just 1ghz. I mean 95% of all gpu's (graphics processing units)have between 750mhz and 1ghz just for themselves and a separate cpu clocked at 2ghz+ and separate mem control for real sticks of memory, and are needed to play hd rich content and opengl products. also an HD YouTube video is not High Definition....I dont care what anyone says...unless the pad can play bluray it doesnt play hidef. i also think that is why the pad is forced to run an iphone os because anyform of leapord would not be able to work as smoothly on this SoC. the reason why it is so fast and so smooth is because the OS is dumbed down enough to work reasonably smooth on a SoC in a iPhone. just having a blown up iPod/iPhone with a blown up SoC will increase the performance/battery life on an iPhone os but lets see how it handles anything else. Most netbooks use SoC's aswell but theirs are clocked at 2ghz+ and play hd content on them is still iffy at best. And god knows i would never want to play any MODERN openGl game on a netbook id have to turn all my settings way down and pray that it doesnt skip too badly. what makes the most sense to me is the LED screens put onto the pad..that will clear any content up to look HD in my opinion. So in short...if they wanted to make the pad a lil cooler they coulda put a REAL chip in and made it slightly thicker fit a opengl standard video card (nvidia preferably) and stuck with flash memory and then that thing would be sweet probably run leapord aswell.
      Yeah... but this aint a gamaig PC dude! Of course we were all disapointed.. that's because we all had high expectations. We all had our hopes, our imagination to what we would like the iPad to be... No they didn't build a superlaptop into a touchscreen panel... doh... In 6 months we're all gonna be talking about how cool this thing is and how the competiton sucks.... We,re ll gonna be jailbreaking, moding, the works.... JUST LIKE WE ARE ALL HAPPY ABOUT OUR IPHONES!

      Chill out guys... stop looking for excuses to complain, wait till your try the darn thing!
    1. DiscusChris's Avatar
      DiscusChris -
      Quote Originally Posted by djnikk View Post
      Yeah... but this aint a gamaig PC dude! Of course we were all disapointed.. that's because we all had high expectations. We all had our hopes, our imagination to what we would like the iPad to be... No they didn't build a superlaptop into a touchscreen panel... doh... In 6 months we're all gonna be talking about how cool this thing is and how the competiton sucks.... We,re ll gonna be jailbreaking, moding, the works.... JUST LIKE WE ARE ALL HAPPY ABOUT OUR IPHONES!

      Chill out guys... stop looking for excuses to complain, wait till your try the darn thing!
      And in 18 months we will be hearing about the new iPad 3G[S] with things like a camera, larger hard drive, better processor, removable media, optical drive, etc etc
    1. Radex's Avatar
      Radex -


      @djnikk

      There shouldn't be a need for jailbreaking, it is like asking Apple to restrict our computers so that we may bust ourselves (or the Iphone Dev Team or Geohot in this case) within a few months. I rather have the freedom to be readily available rather than wait for months for a jailbreak. I'd rather take an HP Slate which includes W7 (NOT a enlarged Windows mobile screen) than this trash.
    1. Ticko's Avatar
      Ticko -
      Quote Originally Posted by DiscusChris View Post
      And in 18 months we will be hearing about the new iPad 3G[S] with things like a camera, larger hard drive, better processor, removable media, optical drive, etc etc
      lol exactly what will happen...i mean how hard could it have been to put a camera on the front like on a macbook screen so it has just even a stinkin camera...i just was expecting something a lot closer to a macbook in tablet form that a blown up iphone