February 8th, 2011 ~ by admin

Qualcomm for Apple: The iPhone 4 CDMA

After years of waiting Apple has released the CDMA version of the iPhone 4.  Obviously the first carrier that comes to mind with the CDMA iPhone (and who it is being released with) is Verizon.  However, the largest CDMA carrier in the world, with over 90 million subscribers, is China Telecom.  One can imagine this is also going to be a pretty good market for Apple. The design is relatively the same as the GSM version with one major change.  The baseband processor has been changed from an Infineon X-Gold 618 to a Qualcomm MDM6600.  This is a pretty big detriment to Intel, who purchased Infineon’s wireless unit just last year. You can see the specs of the GSM iPhone 4 here, as well as all previous iPhones.

Qualcomm MDM6600 - 512MHz ARM1136 - image: iFixit

The MDM6600 (Gobi) is actually a GSM/CDMA solution, but due to antenna limitation (is anyone surprised?) it is built for CDMA only.  Once again this is an ARM powered chip.  The MDM6600 main core is a 512MHz ARM1136JS.  The X-Gold 618 of the GSM iPhone 4 runs a 416MHz ARM1176.  The ARM1136 is roughly the same as the 1176 with a few features removed.

This is good news for Apple, and certainly good news for ARM as millions of more devices with ARM processor cores will be sold.  It will be interesting to see which baseband provider Apple selects for the iPhone 5 which should support 4G.

November 23rd, 2010 ~ by admin

Another Apple 1, Another Quarter Million Dollars

In September a Apple 1 computer with a few accessories sold for $23,000.  Christie’s has just auctioned off an early (first run) Apple 1, with invoice, shipping box, letter from ‘Steven Jobs’ and many accessories for a staggering $213,600.  This would have been one of the original PCB’s, sold without components and later assembled by someone else.  The main CPU is of course a 6502 but in this case a R6502P by Rockwell made in late 1981.

Complete Apple 1

What made this one so much more valuable?  The documentation and original box.  Whoever bought it should however replace the CPU with a white ceramic MOS 6502 to preserve the beauty of the original Apple 1.

October 26th, 2010 ~ by admin

How The Newton And ARM Saved Apple From Death

Apple Newton 120 - 1994

Cult of Mac recently interviewed John Sculley, the former CEO of Apple.  The interview is long, and very interesting. Sculley presided over Apple during some rather rough times. Steve Jobs in fact still wont talk to Sculley.  This is interesting, as it was Sculley, and the result of a failure that ended up saving Apple, or at least significantly helping them stay in business.

The Apple Newton is known as one of Apple’s biggest failures, however, it ultimately brought relief to the company.  Apple began the Newton project back in 1987.  In search of a processor that could handle the OS, and run on batteries Apple turned to ARM, then a small British company known as Acorn, whose main business was computers and processors for Acorn computers and BBC Micro computers.

Acorn did not have the resources to design the processor Apple needed, so Apple, along with an Italian company called Olivetti took a 47% stake in Acorn.  This cash infusion allowed ARM to develop the processor for the first Newton.  The first Newtons, or MessagePads, as the ones made by Apple were branded, were powered by a 20MHz ARM610 processor.  It was made by VLSI (the first silicon partner for ARM) and called the VY86C610.  They were introduced in 1993 and continued production (in various forms) until 1997. Sharp, Motorola and several other companies also made Newton OS devices, but they enjoyed even less success then Apple’s.

VLSI VY86C610C 20MHz ARM610

In 1997 Apple releases the eMate 300, a classroom targeted laptop system.  It ran the slightly more advanced 25MHz VLSI VY86C710A ARM710A. The styling of the eMate seems to have carried over to the first iBooks with translucent, rounded cases.

The last of the line was the MessagePad 2000 and 2100, both of which were based on an ARM processor made by DEC and Intel called the StrongARM SA-110.  It ran at 162MHz and was at its time one of the highest performing designs for mobile devices available.  Intel later developed the XScale line of processors from it, which they then sold off to Marvell.

In 1998, among diminishing sales, Apple closed down the Newton division.  Some of the original developers of the Newton OS went on to create a company called Pixo.  ARM IPO’d that years as well as ARM Holdings.  Apple sold their stake in ARM for $800 Million.  This influx of cash came at a time when it was desperately needed by Apple, and gave them the time, and money they needed to ‘reset’ and return to profitability in a VERY strong way.

eMate 300 ARM710A - 25MHz

A mere 3 years later, in 2001, Apple ‘changed everything’ with the release of the iPod. The iPod ran on a dual core 90MHz ARM7TDMI processor made by PortalPlayer. It ran an OS designed by Pixo.  Apple subsequently bought Pixo, and likely returned a few old Newton employees to their old desks in doing so. All further iPods, iPhones, and iPads, and now the iTV run on ARM processors. From the lowly 20MHz of the ARM 610 to the 1GHz+ of Apple own A4. The company that Apple helped get started, is now at the foundation of Apples core business.

And it was all because of a ‘failure,’ the Newton.

September 27th, 2010 ~ by admin

Original Models: A Look at Iconic Tech Prototypes

Wired has an interesting article about several prototypes of rather historical devices.  Of much interest are the Apple 1, and the Atari 2600 although the doorbell powered Moog is pretty classy as well.

Take a look at the Atari 2600 prototype and notice that they used a MOS 6502 in it.  The final version used the lower cost (and smaller) MOS (or Synertek) 6507.

Atari 2600 Motherboard - 6507 CPU

When designing a product, it often is easier to use the standard full featured version of an IC for development work, and then as you refine the design, trim down to the least, and smallest components you can.

We also learn how Foxconn got its idea of low wages.  Steve Jobs himself paid his sister a mere $1/board to assemble the Apple 1.

Its interesting to see how prototypes can be so vastly different from the finished product.  A fact that design engineers know all to well. “I have to put all of THAT into what?”

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Just For Fun

September 10th, 2010 ~ by admin

$23,000 for a 1MHz Computer – Only if its an Apple 1

A nice Working Apple 1 computer with much documentation was just (minutes ago) sold on eBay for $22,766.66.  Early computers (and the chips that make them work) are greatly increasing in value.  Especially if it happens to have the famous Apple name and customizations done by Wozniak himself.

Apple 1 Motherboard

The CPU on this board is a MOS 6502 in a beautiful white ceramic package.  It moved 8 bits of data at 1MHz.

MOS MCS6502 1976

Many other computers from the 1970’s are now worth thousands of dollars as well, such as the IMSAI 8080 and the Kim 1

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Processor News

August 13th, 2010 ~ by admin

The evolution of the Apple iPhone and its many CPU’s – Even within a model

The CPU Shack is pretty much on the trailing edge of technology, we are, after all, a museum.  However, we fancy the new technology as well, and like to crack it open for a look see.  The iPhone, in its 4th generation, is an oasis of CPU’s, sadly we have not been able to get one.  That has now changed….

Anthony, of the iPhone repair company Milliamp.com has graciously donated the logic boards from a iPhone 2G, 3G and 3GS. No 4G iPhones yet, but perhaps later.  Now there has been several teardowns of iPhones as they came out, notably by the good folks at iFixIt.  We are going to explore the many CPUs in each model of iPhone, the changes made as they evolved, and something new though not entirely unexpected.

CPUs by function and generation of iPhone:

Function 2G 3G 3GS 4
App Processor Samsung S3C6400 400-412MHz ARM1176JZ Samsung S3C6400 400-412MHz ARM1176JZ Samsung S5PC100 600MHZ ARM Cortex A8 Apple A4 800MHz ARM Cortex A8
Baseband S-GOLD2 ARM926EJ-S <200MHz Infineon X-Gold 608 ARM926 312MHz + ARM7TDMI-S Infineon X-Gold 608 ARM926 312MHz + ARM7TDMI-S X-Gold 618 ARM1176 416MHz
GPS NA Infineon HammerHead II Infineon  HammerHead II BCM4750 (no CPU core)
Bluetooth BlueCore XA-RISC BlueCore XA-RISC BCM4325 (2 CPU cores) BCM4329 (2 CPU cores)
Wifi Marvell 88W8686 Feroceon ARMv5 128MHz Marvell 88W8686 Feroceon ARMv5 128MHz see above see above
TouchScreen Multi-chip BCM5974 TI TI
OS Nucleus by Mentor Graphics Nucleus Nucleus ThreadX by ExpressLogic
Total Cores 5 7 7 5

Applications Processor vs Baseband Processor

On a device such as the iPhone it is common to have two separate CPUs that run the phone.  The Baseband Processor runs the underlying hardware of the phone (the radios, etc)  This is critical timing wise so it runs its own OS, a Real Time OS capable of dealing with all the complexities in making a phone call or sending data to a cell tower.

The Applications Processor runs just that, the applications, such as iTunes, and iOS itself, this way they are independent of the phone portion. This way if say the new game you installed crashes, it does not effect your phone talking to the tower.

In addition to the applications processor and baseband processor there are several others.  The GPS has its own processor, as does the Bluetooth, and the Wifi as well as the touchscreen. Some of these are pretty simple CPUs, but think back  a few years.  The CPU running JUST the wifi in an iPhone is faster then most desktop computers 15 years ago.






Apple iPhone Logic Boards

Apple iPhone 2G

The Original iPhone and the 3G used the same app. processor, an ARM11 based CPU made by Samsung. It initially ran at 400MHz but via a software update was bumped up to 412MHz.

The biggest change in the 2G to the 3G was the addition of GPS and a change in Baseband.  the 3Gs baseband ran at less then 200MHz, but the 3G runs at up to 312MHz, and included 2 actual ARM processors. add in the CPUs that runs the touch screen, GPS, wifi, and bluetooth and you scan see there is ALOT of processor power in the phone.  7 DIfferent CPUs just to make the phone work.

Apple iPhone 3GS

The 3GS iPhone boosted the speed of the applications processor considerably (and thus it runs iOS4 MUCH better then the 3G).  Again the app processor is made by Samsung, but now its clocked at 600MHz, and based on the ARM Cortex-A8, a faster core then the ARM11 design.  This processor will do 800+MHz but Apple underclocks it for the sake of battery life.  The baseband remains the same, but APple used an integrated chip to handle both the Bluetooth and the wifi.

Apple iPhone 4G

Previous models of iPhones carried something over from the previous model. Whether it was the app processor, baseband, or wifi, there was some reuse. Not so with the 4G, All the important bits are new.  The App processor is the same as in the iPad, the ARM Cortex-A8 based A4 (which really is a Samsung/Intrinsity design.  This design we know is capable of 1GHz (as it does such in the iPad, however, to preserve battery, its clocked at around 800MHz in the iPhone.  The Baseband processor is also all new, its now running a single ARM11 core at up to 416MHz.  The Baseband processor in the iPhone 4 is faster then the original CPU in the iPhone 3G. The Real Time OS that runs on the Baseband also changed, from Nucleos, to ThreadX. They are made by different companies (Mentor Graphics vs Express Logic) however the same designer wrote them both (William Lamie)

Apples mid-life CPU revisions

Its common for a design to evolve somewhat in the life of a product. This seems to have happened considerably within iPhone generations.

Device App Processor Part # Date Code
iPhone 339S0030 0722
iPhone 339S0042 0816
iPhone 3G 339S0036 0822
iPhone 3GS 339S0068 0919
iPhone 3GS 339S0073 0919
iPod Touch 1 339S0029 0731
iPod Touch 2 339S0048 0831
iPod Touch 3 339S0075 0928

Apple used several revisions of what SHOULD be the same CPU. the iPhone and iPhone 3G use the same processor, but here we see no less then 3 different part numbers for it.  In the 3GS we see something similar, even for devices dated the same week, there is 2 different part numbers.  Its curious what Apple/Samsung saw fit to change.  If you know of other part numbers, lets us know

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April 22nd, 2010 ~ by admin

Apple rumored to buy ARM Holdings

AppleInsider has a post up about a potential interest Apple has in ARM Holdings, designers of the ARM processor cores used in the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, among tens of thousands of other devices. Apple has a market cap, of almost $250 billion, while ARM is just shy of $2 billion. Apple clearly has the cash abilty to purchase ARM outright, and they certainly have a reason to want to.

However, the rest of the computer world has an even bigger reason to keep Apple from doing so.  ARM devices are used by tens of thousands of devices, made by thousands of companies. Silicon containing ARM IP is made by hundreds of companies across the world. The success of these companies, their designs, and the devices they power is in large part based on fair, equal, and predictable availability of licenses from ARM.

If Apple were to own ARM, they could completely stop the availability of licenses to any design they felt was a competitor, or they could delay the release to third parties of newer designs. This is similar to the problem some phone companies are experiencing with Google and their Android OS, Google is motivated to sell their own branded Nexus One phone, with the latest version of Android, before giving the same version to third parties.

Read More »

April 5th, 2010 ~ by admin

Apple iPad Round up: Inside and Out The Processors of Apple’s Latest

Apple Officially has launched the iPad, essentially a scaled up iPhone, and judging by the model number, it started development several years ago around the time of the first iPod Touch. Many of the components are similar to the iPhone, if not the same. Obviously the biggest processor ews is the Apple A4 ARM processor at its heart. Its developed by Apple, and built by Samsung. a multi-die package, it includes the ARM processor, and PowerVR Graphics on one die, and then two 128MB DRAM dies as well.

iPad Motherboard - A4 CPU by Samsung

What is interesting about the A4? It has a 64bit memory bus, rather then the more standard 32bit but found on most ARM devices. This likely for faster memory access to support faster graphics.

Wifi, Bluetooth, and FM functions are handled by a Broadcom BCM4329 which includes two processors of its own (the documentation of this part does not state what architecture they are, but MIPS or XA-RISC is likely)

The screen controller is the Broadcom BCM5973/5974 which has been used by Apple for several years. The Baseband processor in the 3G version is the Infineon X-Gold 608 which contains a 312MHz ARM926 processor, a 2007 design, so probably saved Apple some money.

So all told the iPad 3G contains at least 4 seperate processors.

Instrinsity: ARM Processor Design House

In related news rumors are flying about Apple acquiring Intrinsity. Instrinsity is a processor design house which specializes in, you guessed it, ARM processors. Its likely they have helped Apple more on the A4 then P.A. Semi (another Apple acquisition) This is further supported by the fact that Intrinsity has worked a lot lately with Samsung in developing a 1GHz ARM CPU (the Hummingbird). Who fab’s the A4? Yah, Samsung.

EE Times: Inside the iPad
EE TImes: Inside the iPad: Broadcom/Samsung
iFixit: Teardown
ars technica: Apple buys Instrinsity

February 1st, 2010 ~ by admin

The Brains of the iPad – The Apple A4 Processor

Much buzz and attention has been given to the Apple iPad, while the jury may still be out as to what Apples tablet is or isn’t useful for, one thing is true, it packs apples first self-branded processor.  Apple touted the processor of the iPad as a new creation and the most advanced yet, which is a bit of a stretch.

Apple A4

Apple A4

The Apple A4 is a ARM Cortex-A9 based SoC, it uses the ARM Mali graphics core (which is fairly robust). It was Created by P.A. Semiconductor who Apple purchased a couple years back. P.A. use to be a PowerPC company, apparently not any more. It makes sense for Apple to use an ARM based processor in the iPad as that is what powers the iPhone and iPod.  The Mali graphics core is a bit of a mystery, as Apple holds a license to its competitor, made by PowerVR, and alas the iPhone uses a PowerVR core and not a Mali core.

Essentially the Apple A4 (based on what we currently know about it) is an off the shelf design. It is not any thing revolutionary, or in fact new at all. The Nvidia Tegra 2 is also a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor. TI has a 1GHz OMAP, Qualcomm the 1GHz Snapdragon (soon to be 1.5GHz), ST has the Nomadic, and Marvel has a 1.2GHz ARM.

Perhaps then, the iPad is a ‘version 2’ product, much like the very first iPhone, Apple has lots of room to make it better, to make it outperform, and not merely match the competition. Time will tell.

UPDATE: It has been confirmed that the A4 uses PowerVR graphic (same as the iPhone) and not a Cortex-A9 but a older Cortex-A8. An even less revolutionary design. I would imagine the work APple did on the A4 involved disabling/removing various features not needed by the iPad in order to cut the power consumption even more.

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