Returning to the beginning of beginnings: Apple A6/A6X (Swift)

The first processor designed by Apple (Swift) debuted in KNK Apple A6/A6X in the second half of 2012. At the time of his appearance, he was faster than all of the processors for mobile devices, but Samsung and Qualcomm easily pointed upstart his place… I had decided to skip the Apple A6/A6X, starting the chronicle chips based on Apple processor Apple A7 – but it did not work.

I gave up. Sketchy information about the Apple A6 and Apple A6X in the materials on other topics, probably really is not enough. And here I am going on about, sorry if I’m breaking the chronology of presentation.

Back in autumn 2012. In September of that year, Apple introduced the iPhone 5 in October, fourth generation iPad, inside SIC (System-on-Chip, SoC) which the main role was played by the 2-nuclear processor of its own design. There are not many companies able to design its own processor, and now Apple was one of them.

The significance of this event cannot be overstated. It as a successful withdrawal of a satellite into orbit in the 60-ies of the last century, if not harder. According to the results of tests and trials, novelty was closer to the leaders in the segment microelectronics, and there was something else that no one noticed (more on this later) – but nothing particularly outstanding in the 2-core Swift really was not.

This continuation of the series Pro processors from Apple. Previous parts:

The first part: In the shadow of the Apple A4;
Second part: the birth of the “Apple” processor.

Inside Apple A6

Introducing the Apple A6, Phil Schiller focused on the emotions and did not go into details. All that is known about this chip, it became known thanks to the heroism of iFixit, and, this time, due to the equipment owned by Chipworks.

Experts have for months discussed the active contacts Apple and TSMC (the company in Taiwan that produces microprocessors). TSMC was one of the first in the industry worked on the technology of 20 nm (but before the actual results was far away), between Apple and Samsung has been raging patent war – but alas, it’s completed iFixit showed that Apple A6 is made by Samsung, the technology for 32-nm.

Processor “on the front” side of the motherboard iPhone 5 well-marked but him in the picture allocated two chip: turquoise encircled with a Qualcomm MDM9615 LTE modem; dark blue Qualcomm DT8600, transceiver.

Motherboard iPhone 5

Seen in the picture obtained in the laboratory Chipworks, experts have suggested that the structure of the processor traces “handmade”. However, consensus has not been reached.

Apple A6

Graphics processor – PowerVR 543MP3, 3-nuclear.

CPU – the result of deep modernization of the Cortex-A9, with two units for working with floating point numbers instead of one in the source ARM and with elements of Cortex-A15.

Clock frequency of the CPU to 1.29 GHz constant. Frequency is not dynamically changed. But in the first few minutes after switching on, the tests showed 1.3 GHz.

1 GB LPDDR2-1066 DRAM.

Claims to the performance of Apple A6 KNK as to its efficiency, was not. Never had a problem.

A larger number of cores would have loved the audience, but alas – when you increase the number of cores would have had to reduce their clock frequency. Performance typical applications for iOS it would be very noticeable. And efficiency what would be the impact negatively.

The decision to limit itself to two cores was meaningful and not accidental. Their time has not come yet.

Apple A6X

The CPU in the Swift chip for the iPad fourth generation was overclocked to 1.4 GHz and was almost identical to the A6 processor. Work with Retina display iPad demanded more power for graphics, it provided the PowerVR 543MP4.

The last digit in the designation indicates modifications PowerVR cores: there were four of them. Moreover, if the PowerVR 543MP3 in the A6 has been overclocked to 266 MHz, the A6X is already up to 300 MHz.

The RAM is the same as the Apple A6 – 1 GB LPDDR2-1066 DRAM.

And A6X claims was not one of the important parameters was not. Balance between performance (perfectly adequate for a tablet) and the battery life was almost perfect.

Processor Steve Jobs

Johnny Srouji was to lead the development of “Apple” chips, and to lead all direction was mark Papermaster from IBM. Fearing leakage of sensitive secrets, IBM all the forces opposed this move and appealed to the court.

According to the court, mark was able to take a position offered to him in the Apple only a year after his retirement from IBM – and the law-abiding anarchist in the world named Steve complied with the decision of the court (in California its failure would not involve legal consequences, but Apple’s reputation that would be detrimental), and the project was temporarily headed by johnny Srouji.

I’m not sure what mark Papermaster could cope with the development of processors better than Joni. Although he chose Steve jobs, who was rarely wrong in men, and Mark just didn’t have the chance to prove himself. But it doesn’t matter, time has shown that johnny was the one person who was able to handle it.

Joni, above all else, began to create a system of quality control. Apple had no right to failure, and any problem in the first new chips will almost certainly have had fatal consequences.

The system includes various software and hardware quality control of the developed processors. First, those that are used in Intel and IBM.

Then created the Apple, the ad hoc group of engineers.

And from the first day to all the meetings and the briefing, Jonny reminded experienced specialists banal truth: “one wrong transistor and the end of all”. Not all of it was kept.

The first Apple a chip Apple A4. Nobody has told why he did not become Apple A1, one of the versions of the first three versions of the chip have not been any sophisticated tests, failed some idiotic (in my opinion one of the former engineers of P. A. Semi, tests and trials to which he subjected the chips was excessive, nothing like he’s never seen in his entire life – paranoia and attention to unnecessary detail!) tests.

Apple A4 successfully “flew”. Behind him, in the fall of 2011, “flew” the Apple A5 and the Apple A5X, and then the protagonist of our story today.

The development of the Apple A6 and Apple А6Х headed Jonny. In addition to the system of quality assurance, he was involved in organizing the group and leading the development of the processor.

The chip-based processor of its own design was almost perfect. The few who did notice, for some reason everyone thinks that the only way it can be. But we all know…

To be continued

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