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Apple A6 Processor is a Custom Apple Design, Prioritizing Performance and Power Efficiency

As part of their iPhone 5 announcement, Apple revealed that the new iPhone is powered by a new "A6" processor from Apple. The A6 is said to have twice the CPU power and twice the GPU power of the previous generation Apple A5 processor. Beyond that, however, Apple offered few other details about the nature of the processor. For example, it's not clear how many cores the processor has or what the clock speed is.


Early speculation had led some to conclude that that the A6 was based on the yet-to-be-seen Cortex A15 ARM processor design. The Cortex A15 is licensable processor design from ARM that promises significantly faster performance than the existing Cortex A9 design which is what Apple uses in their A5 processor (iPhone 4S).

Anandtech now reveals, however, that the A6 is a custom Apple design:
The A6 is the first Apple SoC to use its own ARMv7 based processor design. The CPU core(s) aren't based on a vanilla A9 or A15 design from ARM IP, but instead are something of Apple's own creation.
Anandtech explains that Apple is one of a few ARM architecture licensees, which allows them to create their own custom ARM processor designs.

While Anadtech goes into the finer details, the ultimate benefit for Apple is the ability to tune their chips towards their own specific goals. In particular, Apple's design goals prioritize both power and performance while the generally licensable Cortex A15 design was reportedly targeted at server configurations.
Rumor has it that the original design goal for ARM's Cortex A15 was servers, and it's only through big.LITTLE (or other clever techniques) that the A15 would be suitable for smartphones. Given Apple's intense focus on power consumption, skipping the A15 would make sense but performance still had to improve.
Apple seems to finally be benefiting from some previous company acquisitions including P.A. Semi and Intrinsity, both chip design companies. The ability to tune their CPU designs specifically for their products could serve as a competitive advantage over other companies that are reliant on the licensable designs provided by ARM. Apple's previous processor designs have been based on these more traditional designs, so this represents Apple's first departure into a more custom design approach.

Image from Engadget

Top Rated Comments

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27 months ago
Thank you for reporting actual news.
Rating: 25 Votes
27 months ago
AnandTech is tech journalism at its finest. Hats off to them!

2x faster with 4G and longer battery life... Hats off to Apple for that.
Rating: 23 Votes
27 months ago

This will probably destroy the Galaxy S3's processor.


The S3 processor wasn't that much better than the A5, especially in graphics performance.

Rating: 14 Votes
27 months ago
This will probably destroy the Galaxy S3's processor.
Rating: 14 Votes
27 months ago
I'm gonna say something like this falls under the term "innovation". :D
Rating: 14 Votes
27 months ago
HAH no wonder Samsung's being a sourpuss with its ads now. :D
Rating: 13 Votes
27 months ago
Seriously, anyone who claims Apple has stopped innovating ought to read this first.

Innovation goes beyond skin deep. Simply slapping a larger screen and changing the design of the casing is extremely superficial; any company can do that. The harder thing is to spend all that money and resources on 'under the hood' improvements that serve an important purpose, even if they don't receive any screen time.

I like that Apple is actually investing all this resources into ensuring that its hardware and software continue to play well together, rather than simply throwing in better specs and whatever tech buzzword is the flavour of the month. They have taken great pains to redesign the screen to make it thinner and less power-intensive, made the processor smaller and more power-efficien and actually improved the durability of the casing, all while making it lighter.

When you consider that the iphone5 is taller yet thinner, this means the internal volume isn't any different (or actually smaller), yet Apple has managed to cram all these improvements inside, without being suckered into using a larger shell instead.

If this isn't innovation, I don't know what is. :)
Rating: 13 Votes
27 months ago
Yes guys, Apple does have engineers and they don't just design a pretty case for off the shelf hardware. :rolleyes:
Rating: 11 Votes
27 months ago

Oh look, I can handpick benchmarks, too.
Image (http://images.anandtech.com/graphs/graph5810/46298.png)

The Galaxy S3 CPU is much faster than the iPhone 4S's. However, its GPU is roughly the same.


Browsermark is a web browser based benchmark and results can change with software update.

Do it using an iPhone 4S running iOS 6. You won't have the same results.

From iOS 5 to iOS 6, it went from 8X,XXX to this:

http://twicsy.com/i/ggU9Jb

And again, all that with a simple software update on a 800mhz dualcore phone vs a 1.4Ghz quadcore phone.

The iPhone 5 will destroy this score. Believe me.
Rating: 11 Votes
27 months ago

Why wouldn't GB results be comparable?


What would happen if you put a V8 on a rubber dingy? Would a sniper do a better job if you gave him a machine gun? What's better, a banana or a teabag?

The point is to do with appropriateness. A V8 is a very powerful engine but it would sink a dingy. A machine gun is great for close quarters melees but a sniper wouldn't be able to hit a distant target with one. A banana is a brilliant snack but wouldn't make a great hot beverage.

Apple is designing a chip for the iPhone. Not for any other phone. That means direct comparisons of raw performance are an imperfect measure. What matters is how well the whole device works in real world tests. A face melting CPU would be worse than useless in a device that can't feed it enough power, for example. It's about the right chip for the job.
Rating: 10 Votes

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