October 8th, 2012 ~ by admin

Apple A6 vs Rockchip RK3066: 4 Years vs. 6 weeks of design

The introduction of the iPhone 5 was also the introduction of Apple’s first truly original Application Processor design.  The iPhone 2, 3G and 3GS all featured designs by Samsung.  The iPhone 4 introduced the A4, which was closely based on the Hummingbird Cortex-A8 core developed with Samsung and Intrinsity, again, not a truly Apple design.  The iPhone 4S introduced the A5 (and the A5X used in the iPad 2).  The A5 is based on the ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore, a standard ARM design, albeit with many added features, but architecturally, the processor is not original, just customized.

ARM provides cores designs for use by developers, such as the Cortex-A9, A8, etc.  These are complete designs of processors that you can drop into your system design as a block, add your own functions, such as a graphics system, audio processing, image handling, radio control, etc and you have your processor.  This is the way many processor vendors go about things.  They do not have to spend the time and effort to design a processor core, just pick one that meets their needs (power budget, speed, die area) and add any peripherals   Many of these peripherals are also licensed as Intellectual Property (IP) blocks making building a processor in some ways similar to construction with Legos.  This is not to say that this is easy, or the wrong way to go about things, it is in fact the only way to get a design to market in a matter of weeks, rather then years.  It allows for a wide product portfolio that can meet many customers needs.  The blocks are often offered for a specific process, so not only can you purchase a license to a Cortex-A9 MPCore, you can purchase one that is hardware ready for a TSMC 32nm High-k Metal Gate process, or a 28nm Global Foundries process.  This greatly reduces the amount of work needed to make a design work with a chosen process. This is what ARM calls the Processor Foundry Program.

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Research

September 6th, 2012 ~ by admin

Apple iPhone Update: Whats changed since the iPhone 4

Back in 2010 we did a write up on the many processors in each iPhone for each version through the iPhone 4.  Since then Apple has released the iPhone 4 (CDMA) and the mid-cycle refresh iPhone 4S.  Seeing as the iPhone 5 should be released on September 12th here is a quick update to bring our table up to date.

CPUs by function and generation of iPhone:

Function 2G 3G 3GS 4 4-CDMA 4S
App Processor Samsung S3C6400 400-412MHz ARM1176JZ Samsung S3C6400 400-412MHz ARM1176JZ Samsung S5PC100 600MHZ ARM Cortex A8 Apple A4 800MHz ARM Cortex A8 Apple A4 800MHz ARM Cortex A8 Apple A5 900Mhz Dual core ARM Cortex-A9
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 Qualcomm MDM6600 ARM1136JS 512MHz Qualcomm MDM6610 ARM1136JS 512MHz
GPS NA Infineon HammerHead II Infineon  HammerHead II BCM4750 (no CPU core) see above see above
Bluetooth BlueCore XA-RISC BlueCore XA-RISC BCM4325 (2 CPU cores) BCM4329 (2 CPU cores) BCM4329 (2 CPU Cores) BCM4330ARM Cortex-M3 + Bluetooth CPU
Wifi Marvell 88W8686 Feroceon ARMv5 128MHz Marvell 88W8686 Feroceon ARMv5 128MHz see above see above see above see above
TouchScreen Multi-chip BCM5974 TI TI TI TI
OS Nucleus by Mentor Graphics Nucleus Nucleus ThreadX by ExpressLogic REX by Qualcomm REX by Qualcomm
Total Cores 5 7 7 5 5 6

Apple iPhone 4 CDMA

The CDMA version of the iPhone 4 switched from an Infineon X-Gold baseband to a Qualcomm MDM6600 running a 512MHz ARM1136JS core.  Interestingly this baseband supports GSM but due to antenna issues it is not implemented here. The Qualcomm Gobi, as it is known, also has integrated GPS, removing the need for the old Broadcom BCM4750.  This sets the stage for the iPhone 4S.

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March 12th, 2011 ~ by admin

Apple A5 Updated Info

Now the UBM Techinsights and iFixIt have completed their teardowns of the iPad 2, and benchmarks have been run we now know that the A5 is in fact a dual core, made by Samsung, and clocked at around 900MHz.  It also includes the PowerVR 543 dual core GPU as we suspected in our previous post.

Apple A5 Processor

Also we now have an actual image of the chip, rather then the photoshopped one Apple used in their presentation.

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Processor News

March 2nd, 2011 ~ by admin

The iPad 2: Apple joins the Dual-core crowd.

Apple A5 - Actually a Photoshop'd A4

Today Apple announced the iPad 2, which unless you are living in a cave, you likely have heard about more then you wish already.  The iPad 2 debuts the next evolution in Apples own ARM processor.  The A4 (which was a single core 1GHz class ARM Cortex-A8 made by Samsung) is out, and a dual core replacement is in.  Details are thin until a proper tear down is done, but it is most likely a 1GHz dual core ARM Cortex-A9 with a dual core PowerVR 543 replacing the single core PowerVR 535.  It is most likely fab’d again by Samsung.  Apple’s press shot during their presentation is NOT an A5, the PR folks at Apple simply Photoshopped the original press shot of the A4 from last year. Note the date codes on the chip are 0939 and 0940 (sine their is 2 dies in it), which is late 2009.

Apple also made the somewhat deceptive remark that the iPad 2 is the first dual core tablet to ship ‘in volume.’  HP’s Touchpad runs a dual core Snapdragon and is shipping ‘soon.’  LG is shipping their tablet this month with a very capable Tegra 2, and Samsung will follow with the Galaxy Tab 10.1, also Tegra 2 powered.  RIM’s Playbook which is in beta, used a TI OMAP 4430 dual core Cortex-A9.  This puts Apple right in the mix of the dual core frenzy that will playout this year.

Apple A4 Press shot, notice the identical markings to the A5

We’ll update the photo as soon as someone (likely the folks at iFixIt) get and tear one down.

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Processor News

February 14th, 2011 ~ by admin

Processor News Round-up: More cores in more places

The last week has been filled with new processor announcements, mainly for phones, but cameras as well. (yes they run some powerful processors now too).

TI is barely shipping products with its dual-core OMAP 4 applications processor and has already announced its successor, the OMAP 5.  The OMAP 5 will be a 2GHz dual core ARM Cortex-A15 (the next ARM generation after the A9). It also includes a pair of ARM Cortex-M4 processor.  the Cortex-M4 is a 150-300MHz microcontroller oriented processor.  This will allow the OMAP 5 to run basic background tasks on the slower (lower power) cores while reserving the high power cores for tasks that actually need them, increasing battery life.

Broadcom continues its drive to enter the smart phone business with the BCM28150, a 1.1GHz dual core ARM Cortex-A9 compatible with Google Android.  In December they released the BCM2157, a 500MHz dual core ARM11 processor for low-end smart phones

Samsung decided to rename the Orion processor (announced back in November) to the Exynos 4210.  A bit of a mouthful compared to Orion.

Fujitsu MB91696AM

Qualcomm showed off the  APQ8060 in HP’s new TouchPad.  This is a dual core version  Snapdragon processor we have become very familiar with. Qualcomm has an architecture license from ARM so they are free to design their own cores without having to stick to ARMs own implementations (such as Cortex-A9 etc).  This gives Qualcomm more flexibility to design in features they need, and tweak design more best efficiency.

Smart phones aren’t the only ones getting new processors.  Digital cameras now require immense amount of processing power (especially to handle 1080p video recording.  Fujitsu (yah, they still make a lot of processors) announced the Milbeaut MB91696AM.  This is a dual core ARM processor with many other DSP functions capable of handling 14Mpixel shooting at 8fps, as well as full HD video.

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.

January 6th, 2011 ~ by admin

The day has come, ARM + Microsoft Windows

Over a year ago we wrote about the need for native support of ARM cored processors by Windows (and not just Windows mobile).  Yesterday at the CES Microsoft officially announced it will be supporting ARM processors as well as ARM SoC’s in Windows 8, and demo’d several such systems.  This is very important to the landscape of processors.  Obviously software support will be initially lacking but this brings much needed competition to the PC market.

Intel and AMD have been competing with each other, and each other alone (with a few exceptions) for almost 10 years now. Bringing full fledged Windows to a new architecture is not unprecedented.  Windows NT 4 ran on x86, MIPS, PowerPC as well as the Digital Alpha.

Nvidia, already very talented in the GPU market, has been working on ARM processors for a couple years now with its Tegra line, so its not surprising that they have also announced development of a ARM based processor/GPU targeted for the desktop known as Project Denver.

VIA is also adding some more competition with the release of their first dual core processor, the Nano X2, based on the Isaiah architecture.  While not known for brute force, the Nano is known for its low heat and power sipping capabilities.

2011 is off to a great start and we look forward to seeing many new processors released, as well as old processors added to the museum

November 18th, 2010 ~ by admin

Qualcomm Announces new SnapDragon Processor

Snap! Just 4 days after we posted about next generation Applications processors Qualcomm has announced the next version of the Snapdragon, the MSM8960.  They are moving to a 28nm process (likely TSMC or Global Foundries) and of course dual cores.  Qualcomm is also promising a 5x performance increase, which means they are likely reworking the Scorpion core and likely adding Out-of-Order Execution which offers a significant speed boost.  Graphics speed will also be increased with an updated Adreno graphics core.  The other important detail is that the MSM8960 supports all 3G and LTE modes, making it a single chip solution for pretty much the entire world market. It also, of course, integrates bluetooth, wifi, and GPS.

This should put Qualcomm in a very competitive position against the Tegra 2, OMAP4, and the new Samsung Orion.

All of this at a 75% reduction in power levels. Suddenly my HTC Incredible, isn’t.

November 14th, 2010 ~ by admin

The next Generation of Application Processors

Current smartphones have an impressive amount of processing power, and its getting better yet.  Samsung’s new Orion chip has now been spotted running in the wild.  This is one of the first of the next generation of mobile Application Processors.

Nvidia Tegra

In 2008 a smart phone would have a ARM11 class processor running at around 500MHz.  The original iPhone, and the iPhone 3G used one made by Samsung running at 412MHz.  The first Android phone (the Google G1/HTC Dream) used a 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A ARM11 processor.  The original Nvidia Tegra CPUs also fall into this class.  We’ll consider this the first generation of the TRUE smart phones as before the iPhone, smart phones were of limited use, and rarely had things likely fully working internet browsing etc.

Qualcomm QSD8250 Snapdragon

The second generation of smart phones significantly increased in processing power.  These are the phones that we use today.  The majority of these run on some version of the ARM Cortex-A8 processor.  These processors are single core 600MHz-1.3GHz devices.  Perhaps the best known are the Apple A4 (Samsung Hummingbird), the Qualcomm Snapdragon (really a custom ARM core called the Scorpion similar to the Cortex-A8 crossed with a Cortex-A9), and the TI OMAP3 series.  Second generation Application Processors also have brought some pretty powerful graphics to phones.  These are integrated onto the same die as the Cortex-A8 and usually are PowerVR (Apple/Samsung and TI), Adreno (Qualcomm from ATI), or Mali (ARMs own GPU) based.

Samsung Orion ARM Cortex-A9 Dev Board

The smart phones of 2011 will begin using the third generation of Application Processors.  These are defined by being based on the ARM Cortex-A9, a faster and more efficient ARM core, as well as typically being a dual core (or better) device.  The TI OMAP4 series fits this description. Qualcomm will continue with the Snapdragon line, but bring it to a dual-core 1.5GHz chip. Apple is an unknown, but will likely up the speed of the A4, or add a core to it.  Samsung;’s Orion is a dual-core 1GHz A9 with a quad core Mali GPU.  It also packs 32KB of L1 cache per core and a full 1MB of L2 cache. Nvidia has the Tegra 250 already, which powers a handful of devices such as the Zune HD.  These processors will handily run full 1080p video, as well as drive external displays.  Your phone will soon be able to play movies on your TV.

ARM Cortex-A15 Eagle

What will the future bring?  ARM Cortex-A15, the Eagle, is a 2.5GHz quad core.  Hopefully it can run without depleting our batteries in an hour.

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.