Apple’s Latest A5 CPU Hides “One-More-Thing”

The new Apple TV’s processor hides some secrets, according to chip-tearing expert

Chipworks’ Technology Blog is running a piece on the A5 applications processor found inside the third-generation Apple TV introduced last month. Not only has Apple switched off a core to keep production costs (and power usage) down, but also the chip is manufactured on Samsung’s new 32 nm process technology, says Chipworks.

The chip-tearing experts got around to examining the Apple TV in their labs, “and wow, did Apple roll out a surprise; a new A5 processor. No, not the A5X that garnered so much attention in the iPad 3, but a new A5 processor,” reads the report.

Chipworks believes the mass media was well entitled to call this new A5 a single core application processor, “since Apple themselves on their product specification page say that the new TV uses a single core application processor.”

However, Chipworks reveals that the silicon is a dual core one, but it offers some technical proof that only one core is being used by the set-top box.

“Sometimes, when we get inside technology, we find that things are not always what they are supposed to be. The new A5 processor die is not a single core processor, but contains a dual core processor,” it states.

There are two scenarios here, according to Chipworks: “Either Apple is only utilizing one core or they are binning parts.”

Semiconductor manufacturers use part binning as a common practice to increase the usable die per wafer, lowering costs: “…in this case they could disable the ‘bad’ core,” says Chipworks,

Calling it a typical one-more-thing on behalf of Apple, the chip experts also found that the new A5 processor is manufactured on Samsung’s new 32 nm high-k metal gate, gate first, LP CMOS process technology. The former A5 was manufactured on Samsung Semiconductors’ 45 nm LP CMOS process.

“The new A5 measures nearly 41% smaller than its predecessor, coming in at 69.6 mm². Process shrinking not only reduce costs by fitting more dies on a wafer, but it also improves performance and lowers power consumption,” Chipworks reports.

“This is a very complex chip for a relatively low volume part (for Apple); one would think they have greater plans for this new A5 variant,” according to the chip-tearing company.


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