Despite the fact that the new Apple TV (complete with 1080P support) is close to a month old, Chipworks has preformed a late teardown of the new alleged single-core A5 chip used in the upgraded device. The results were interesting to say the least.
According to the report, the A5 chip found inside the new Apple TV is actually a completely new design from the standard A5 chip that powers select iOS-based devices.
Apple TV A5 chip (on the left) and iPhone 4S A5 chip (on the right)
The new design uses a die shrink that has enabled Apple to take advantage of a new 32-nm process instead of the now outdated 45-nm process (used to build the older A5 chips). This new process, in combination with smaller architecture and various other factors, has allowed Apple to decrease the size of the chip by 41 percent:
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. 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.
The report also reveals that chip used on the new Apple TV may actually feature a dual-core processor instead of a single-core processor (as stated by Apple). In Chipworks’ report, they provide a possible explanation as to why Apple would want to talk down the CPU used in the new unit:
Either Apple is only utilizing one core or they are binning parts. Parts binning is a common process in semiconductors where devices are segregated (binned) based on meeting a subset of the overall requirements, in this case they could disable the “bad” core, this increases the usable die per wafer, lowering the cost.
While the applications for a chip that takes advantage of a new die shrink method are certainly understandable for a unit as small as the Apple TV, it would seem almost pointless for Apple to invest in research and development if the process will simply be used for the plug-and-play TV unit. The teardown report suggests that the technology used in the new A5 chip might make its way over to the future processors used in Apple’s iDevice lineup. The internally seeded next-generation iPhone, cleverly disguised in an iPhone 4/4S form factor that was reported on earlier, might be the first iPhone to be powered by a chip that utilizes this technology.
Stay tuned for more coverage on Apple, their products and the new advancements they make for the components in their products.