What’s Next After Apple’s A6?

21 Sep

The iPhone 5’s A6 can be said to be a highly customized processor. Compared to ordinary ARM CPUs, the chip’s strength revolves mostly around its processing speed and energy efficiency. One surprising find is that the ARM Cortex-A9 quad core chip used in certain Android devices does not necessarily perform better than the new iPhone’s ARM-15 dual core chip, even though both processors are essentially fabricated from the same 32nm process. This serves not only as a testament to the advantages of the Cortex-15 architecture, but also an indication of the potential benefits for manufacturers producing complex ARM core processors (for instance, Samsung, TI, and Qualcomm). It can be argued that in the future, the nature of market competition will be largely determined by how various manufacturers go about designing and customizing their Cortex-15 chips.

As Apple’s previous A5 and A5X were manufactured by Samsung, each chip’s design borrows heavily from the Korean company’s existing ARM processors. The A6 chip, however, is mostly Apple’s creation. Other than following the necessary ARM standards, Apple made sure to add many of its own unique touches to the Cortex-15 processor, in effect opening up room for incorporating further performance-related improvements.

Taking into account the potential for iPhone 5 sales to reach 100 million units, and given that Apple not only spent $400 million USD on acquiring PA Semi and other companies, but also another $100 million on development, a single iPhone 5 handset can be estimated to have incurred $5 USD for each A6 chip, and $15 to $20 USD for the CPU’s manufacturing cost. Apparently, Apple has placed a major emphasis on the development of the iPhone 5’s dual core processor. This is understandably crucial to helping it maintain its competitive edge within the future mobile hardware market.

TrendInsider forecasts that by the time the fourth generation iPad hits the market, the high-end processor that will be utilized –be it the standard or advanced A6 chip– is certain to have better clock speed and higher efficiency. This feature will arguably make the next iPad a heavy weight champion within the tablet industry. At present, both the A6 and A5 used in current Apple devices are ARMv7 processors. In the future, new ARMv8 processors will be introduced, and will be certain to show remarkable improvement in the functionality and efficiency departments.

It is predicted that A6X, Apple’s next gen A6 chip, will appear at around 2013. On the other hand, the new ARM processor, A7, is likely to debut sometime during 2014. By that time, Apple may no longer use Samsung for manufacturing processor chips, and may instead rely on potential partners like TSMC and Intel.

According to TrendInsider, judging by the present 32nm A6’s die size, chances are high that manufacturing advancements will bring about further developments. We believe that an upgraded SoC chip will allow for enhanced memory based capabilities, increased transfer rates, better capacity, and more remarkable GPU performance. At present, though, not even Apple has been able to achieve a breakthrough in this area, let alone other manufacturers. This is certain to be the next big area of development in the periods to follow.

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