Overview of Apple's A6 Chip Development and Future Plans

apple a6 chipSemiconductor analyst Linley Gwennap has posted an interesting overview (via CNET) of the series of events that led to Apple's A6 system-on-a-chip, the company's first entirely custom ARM chip design. The report notes that Apple has likely spent in excess of $500 million on the project when including the purchase prices of chip firms P.A. Semi and Intrinsity.

At this point, Apple has spent about $400 million to buy PA Semi and Intrinsity, tens of millions for a license to design its own ARM CPUs, and probably north of $100 million to support its CPU design efforts over the past four years. It appears that the end result will be that Apple ships a Cortex-A15-class CPU about three months before arch-enemy Samsung does. These three months happen to come during the big holiday buying season, during which the iPhone 5 could generate $25 billion in revenue. So that half billion dollars could be money well spent.

The report traces Apple's ARM-based chip development back to its 2008 acquisition of P.A. Semi. Beyond its license to use ARM cores, Apple's acquisition of P.A. Semi led the company to also obtain a rare license to develop its own ARM-based CPUs, as had been rumored in mid-2008. Apple then split the P.A. Semi team into two groups to focus on what would become the A4 system-on-chip and to build Apple's own ARM implementations.

While one group of PA Semi employees set to work on the Apple A4 processor using an ARM CPU core, another group began defining the microarchitecture for the new CPU. According to one source, Steve Jobs initially set an “insanely great” bar for the performance of the new CPU, but he eventually realized that his CPU team was limited by the same laws of physics that apply to everyone else. For whatever reason, the project took a long time to get through the initial definition and design phase.

As Apple iterated on standard ARM solutions for the A4, A5, and A5X, it continued to press forward on its own A6, which reportedly saw design completion in early 2010 and physical design work wrapping up about a year later. With the first samples of the A6 being delivered to Apple in the summer of 2011, the company continued to put the chip and its production processes through extensive testing ahead of full production started earlier this year for the iPhone 5.

The report notes that Apple is likely to follow a typical two-year design cycle with its own chips, working on a 64-bit ARMv8 solution for launch in 2014. As a result, Apple's 2013 devices will likely use ramped-up variants of the current A6 design, perhaps by moving from a dual-core CPU to a quad-core processor or by boosting the graphics capabilities of the package as the company did for the A5X in the third-generation iPad.

Top Rated Comments

lifeinhd Avatar
118 months ago
Apple has likely spent in excess of $500 million on the project

Nah, Samsung's covered that for them quite nicely :p
Score: 39 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Skika Avatar
118 months ago
The eighth iPhone will be called iPhone 6? :confused: Annoying.

You are annoying.
Score: 34 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Krauser Avatar
118 months ago
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Hexiii Avatar
118 months ago
Unlimited poweeer!!
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Patriot24 Avatar
118 months ago
It doesn't take a genius to see that safari feels snappier on the iPhone 5 (which should've been called "iPhone 6"), but I would have liked to see it running on a Powerbook G5 one day. Of course, Steve probably would not have allowed that. Now that he is out of the way, Tim Cook may have restarted the effort, but we won't know until the official unveil due to the doubling-down on secrecy.

Regardless, I am looking forward to new retina iMacs and Mac Pros.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jrswizzle Avatar
118 months ago
Apple completely designed their own CPU.....but the iPhone 5 isn't innovative :cool:
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

mac scanner permission error

Apple Says Fix Planned for 'You Do Not Have Permission to Open the Application' Error When Using a Scanner on Mac

Saturday August 14, 2021 6:15 am PDT by
In a newly published support document on its website, Apple has acknowledged an error that some users may receive when they try to use a scanner with a Mac in the Image Capture app, Preview app, or the Printers & Scanners section of System Preferences. A screenshot of the error message from the HP Support Community When attempting to use a scanner with a Mac, Apple said users might get an...
original iphone

Phil Schiller Says iPhone Was 'Earth-Shattering' Ten Years Ago and Remains 'Unmatched' Today

Monday January 9, 2017 7:15 am PST by
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller sat down with tech journalist Steven Levy for a wide-ranging interview about the smartphone's past, present, and future. The report first reflects upon the iPhone's lack of support for third-party apps in its first year. The argument inside Apple was split between whether the iPhone should be a closed...
Apple Prefer Lightning Over USB C Feature

iPhone Sticking With Lightning Port Over USB-C for 'Foreseeable Future'

Tuesday March 2, 2021 9:32 am PST by
Apple will retain the Lightning connector on the iPhone for the "foreseeable future," with no intention of switching to USB-C, according to reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In spite of much of the industry moving toward USB-C, Apple will not be using it to replace the Lightning connector on the iPhone 13, or indeed on any iPhone model for the time being. In a note seen by MacRumors yesterday,...
apple california streaming event

Apple Event Announced: 'California Streaming' on September 14 With iPhone 13, Apple Watch Series 7 Expected

Tuesday September 7, 2021 9:03 am PDT by
Apple today announced that it will be holding a special event on Tuesday, September 14 at 10:00 a.m. The event will take place at the Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California. As with WWDC and last year's fall events, this new event will be held digitally with no members of the media invited to attend in person. Apple will likely provide pre-taped segments for...
iOS 15 icon on phone

Apple Seeds Sixth Betas of iOS and iPadOS 15 to Developers

Tuesday August 17, 2021 10:05 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the sixth betas of iOS and iPadOS 15 to developers for testing purposes, with the updates coming one week after Apple released the fifth betas. Registered developers can download the profile for the iOS and iPadOS betas from the Apple Developer Center, and once the profile is installed, beta updates will be available over the air. iOS 15 is a major update that...
youtube apple tv

YouTube Discontinuing 3rd-Generation Apple TV App, AirPlay Still Available

Wednesday February 3, 2021 3:09 pm PST by
YouTube is planning to stop supporting its YouTube app on the third-generation Apple TV models, where YouTube has long been available as a channel option. A 9to5Mac reader received a message about the upcoming app discontinuation, which is set to take place in March.Starting early March, the YouTube app will no longer be available on Apple TV (3rd generation). You can still watch YouTube on...
omg lightning cable comparison

Security Researcher Develops Lightning Cable With Hidden Chip to Steal Passwords

Thursday September 2, 2021 6:59 am PDT by
A normal-looking Lightning cable that can used to steal data like passwords and send it to a hacker has been developed, Vice reports. The "OMG Cable" compared to Apple's Lightning to USB cable. The "OMG Cable" works exactly like a normal Lightning to USB cable and can log keystrokes from connected Mac keyboards, iPads, and iPhones, and then send this data to a bad actor who could be over a...
maroon5memories

Apple Collaborates With Maroon 5 to Add 'Memories' Song to Photos App

Wednesday September 25, 2019 12:02 pm PDT by
Apple has teamed up with Maroon 5 to add the group's new song "Memories" to the Memories feature in the Photos app, allowing it to be used for photo slide show creations, reports Billboard. "Memories" will be available as a soundtrack option for a limited time and it is available to iPhone and iPad users running the latest iOS 13 and iPadOS software. Memories in the Photos app are created ...
it home ecommerce app iphone 13

iPhone 13 to Launch on September 17, AirPods 3 on September 30, Claims Report

Wednesday August 25, 2021 2:42 am PDT by
Apple may be planning to launch the iPhone 13 on Friday, September 17 and third-generation AirPods on Thursday, September 30, according to an image of an e-commerce app discovered by Chinese language site IT Home. The screenshot, originally posted by Weibo account @PandaIsBald, suggests all four iPhone 13 models will go on sale on September 17, followed by the AirPods 3 on September 30....
Top Stories 75 Thumbnail

Top Stories: Last-Minute iPhone 13 Rumors, Apple Announces App Store Changes, and More

Saturday September 4, 2021 6:00 am PDT by
The finish line is in sight! Apple's annual iPhone event is likely just a week or so away and all eyes will be on the company as it unveils the next version of its most popular product line. With any luck, we'll also see the next-generation Apple Watch and perhaps even some new AirPods. Other news this week saw Apple making some more changes to its App Store policies in response to a...