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Analysts: Will there be an Apple designed GPU?

Posted: 22 Feb 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:A-series? processors? CPU? GPU? die?

The second major evolution to date was the change from a 45 nm process to the current 32 nm process. The A5 was the first public part to be manufactured in the two processes, with the 32 nm A5 appearing in the late winter / early spring 2012. Because of this shrink in fabrication process geometry the "raw" die and block sizes do not provide a good comparison of the family members. To this end we have normalized die and block sizes to the 32 nm process. The results are shown in the table below.

Die allocation for the A-series

Die allocation for the A-series.

A number of things jump out from the table. First is the continued increase in "32 nm" equivalent die size for both processor streams as seen in the third column.

The A6 was introduced during the September 2012 keynote as being 22% smaller than its predecessor. This is true on a silicon basis, but on a circuit basis i.e. corrected for the shrink, it is in fact 36% larger. The same is true for the A6X which is 29 % larger than its "5" level sibling.

There are quite a few more transistors on these parts. Looking within the die, the corrected CPU area is 50% larger with the custom designed cores on the "6" level parts. The area devoted to the GPU, on the other hand, has continually increased in the two streams.

While the iPad 4 maintained the same 3.1 million pixel count as the iPad 3, there was room to improve the graphics capabilities of the A6X compared to the A5X. Thus, the 39% increase in GPU area on the A6X compared to the A5X was not to handle more pixels, but to provide much better performance.

How are Apple design efforts progressing?

When we first wrote about the A4 for EE Times in 2010 we found that there were many similarities with the Samsung design. Later in 2011 when the A5 came along, we thought it was a bold step forward, and speculated on possible avenues of customisation for Apple because they control both the integrated circuit design and the OS.

Probably the most striking thing about the A6/A6X is the Apple designed dual ARM core that each sport. A close second would be the continued increase in "circuits" compared to earlier generations of the A-series family. So in summary, the A-series family has evolved into a serious bit of circuit design and is here to stay. Period.

First, it will be interesting to see if the die size plateaus at some point.

With the pixel count now stabilised for the last two generations of 10.1" iPad, the added circuit horsepower is driving improved performance C not more pixels.

Second, it will be interesting to see how the block count evolves going forward, with IP of the anobit or authentec acquisitions possibly showing up in future designs.

Finally, the big one: Will there be an Apple designed GPU? It is clear that the GPU is continually consuming more silicon whether you look across the whole family our just within one branch. Based on the move to a custom CPU design this may well be in the back of their head. The question of sufficient engineering resources and/or graphics IP is a topic best left for another day.

- Paul Boldt and Don Scansen
??EE Times

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