Overview of Apple's A6 Chip Development and Future Plans

Semiconductor 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

(View all)
Avatar
106 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)
Avatar
106 months ago

The eighth iPhone will be called iPhone 6? :confused: Annoying.


You are annoying.
Score: 34 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
106 months ago
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
106 months ago
Unlimited poweeer!!
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
106 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)
Avatar
106 months ago
Apple completely designed their own CPU.....but the iPhone 5 isn't innovative :cool:
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

New Photos Offer Better Look at iPhone 12 Color Options

Tuesday October 20, 2020 2:34 am PDT by
As we wait for the iPhone 12 review embargo to lift later today, more pictures are circulating of the devices in real-world lighting conditions, providing a better look at the different colors available. Leaker DuanRui has shared images on Twitter of the iPhone 12 in white, black, blue, green, and (PRODUCT)RED. The black and white colors are similar to the iPhone 11 colors, but the other...

iPhone 12 Pro in Graphite and iPhone 12 in Blue Shown Off in Unboxing Videos

Monday October 19, 2020 8:20 am PDT by
While the iPhone 12 Pro does not launch until Friday, we now have an early unboxing video of the device courtesy of Twitter account DuanRui, providing a closer look at the shiny new flat-edge design and sleek Graphite color option. Ben Geskin re-uploaded the unboxing video to YouTube, which we've embedded below: Geskin has also uploaded an unboxing video of the iPhone 12 in Blue: ...

Apple Releases iPadOS and iOS 14.1 With Multiple Bug Fixes Ahead of iPhone 12 Launch

Tuesday October 20, 2020 10:06 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 14.1, the first major updates to the iOS and iPadOS 14 operating system updates that were released in September. iOS and iPadOS 14.1 come a week after Apple released the golden master versions of the updates to developers. The iOS 14.1 update can be downloaded for free and it is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access...

Watch: iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Unboxing Videos and First Impressions

Tuesday October 20, 2020 6:05 am PDT by
Apple's embargo has lifted for iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro reviews. In addition to our detailed review roundups for each device, we've rounded up over a dozen unboxing videos and first impressions below. iPhone 12 in Blue on left and iPhone 12 Pro in Pacific Blue on right via Engadget Key new features of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro include a flat-edge design, 5G support, a much faster A14 ...

Gold Version of iPhone 12 Pro Apparently Has a More Fingerprint Resistant Stainless Steel Frame

Tuesday October 20, 2020 11:56 am PDT by
iPhone 12 Pro reviews hit the web today, and one of the more interesting tidbits came from TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino, who revealed that the Gold version of the device apparently has a more fingerprint resistant coating applied to the stainless steel frame. From his review:Most of the iPhone 12 Pro finishes still use a physical vapor deposition process for edge coating. But the new gold...

Photographer Austin Mann Tests the iPhone 12 Pro's Camera

Wednesday October 21, 2020 4:14 am PDT by
Travel photographer Austin Mann usually performs an in-depth review of new iPhone models to test their camera performance in real-world scenarios. To test Apple's new iPhone 12 Pro, Mann traveled to Glacier National Park, Montana. Mann focused on some of the biggest camera upgrades with the iPhone 12 Pro, including the upgraded Wide lens, Ultra Wide Night mode, and LiDAR autofocus, across a...

iPhone 12 Pro Max Has Smaller 3,687 mAh Battery According to Regulatory Filing

Tuesday October 20, 2020 8:48 pm PDT by
Apple's new iPhone 12 Pro Max is equipped with a 3,687 mAh battery, which is around 7% less capacity than the 3,969 mAh battery in the iPhone 11 Pro Max, according to a regulatory filing published by TENAA, the Chinese equivalent of the FCC. The regulatory filing, spotted by MacRumors, also lists the iPhone 12 Pro Max with 6GB of RAM as seen in benchmark results last week. Apple has filed ...

5G Drains iPhone 12 Battery 20% Faster Than 4G in Benchmark

Wednesday October 21, 2020 3:17 am PDT by
After the first reviews for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro emerged yesterday, a new report by Tom's Guide reveals the extent of battery life reductions when using 5G. The report outlines a test wherein the iPhone surfs the web continuously at 150 nits of screen brightness, launching a new site every 30 seconds until the battery drains. Interestingly, the test was run on an iPhone 12 and...

Hands-On With Apple's iPhone 12 and 12 Pro MagSafe Cases

Tuesday October 20, 2020 1:33 pm PDT by
Apple's iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are launching this Friday, and ahead of that release date, Apple is shipping out various accessories like the MagSafe charger and MagSafe cases. Yesterday we took a look at the MagSafe charger, and today our MagSafe case came in the mail, so we thought we'd take another look at the charger to see how it works with the case and just how strong the case magnets are. S ...

Reliable Leaker Suggests AirTags 'Coming Soon' in Two Different Sizes

Tuesday October 20, 2020 1:53 am PDT by
Apple's rumored AirTags Bluetooth tracking devices could launch imminently and will be available in two size options, based on new tweets from cryptic-but-reliable leaker L0vetodream. In typical enigmatic style, the leaker first tweeted this morning that a "big one" and a "small one" are "coming soon," but withheld what they were referring to. However that was followed an hour later with the ...