Samsung-made A6 chip has dual ARM CPU cores, 3 PowerVR GPU cores, 1GB RAM

By , Sep 25, 2012

Apple claims the iPhone 5 is twice as fast as the iPhone 4S (which is no slouch) in terms of processing and graphics power, thanks to the in-house designed A6 chip. You could even say that the A6 pushes the iPhone 5 ahead of competing smartphones, at least in Javascript and Geekbench tests.

The A6 is clearly a beast of a chip, not just in terms of sheer power but also in delivering the world’s first phone powered by ARM’s Cortex-A15 CPU platform, completely customized to Apple’s needs. In addition to two CPU cores, the first diffusion image by UBM TechInsights has also showed three GPUs.

And now, repair wizards iFixit teamed up with chip experts Chipworks who put the A6 silicon under a sophisticated microscope. Here’s what we could glean from so-called “floorplans”…

As iFixIt reports, in order to expose the guts of the A6 package to the world, Chipworks used a pricey machine that performs ion beam etching, a process that uses the atoms in an ion beam to remove layers of semiconductor devices in a controlled and selective manner, which yields extremely precise and planar results.

Think of ion beam etching as sandblasting a chip to remove specific layers.

For starters, Chipworks was able to determine that the A6 is fabbed on Samsung’s 32 nm HKMG (Hi dielectric K, Metal Gate) CMOS process.

By the way, that’s the same process that Apple and Samsung used to fab a variant of the A5 package inside the third-generation Apple TV and the revised iPad 2.

Chipworks also tapped a new, higher resolution scanning capacitance microscope to examine the doping profiles of NMOS and PMOS devices in the A6 chip.


The electron gun inside the new transmission electron microscope taps quantum mechanics to deliver high-rez chip shots.

A transmission electron microscope works by shooting a bunch of electrons at a piece of material, then watching the way the electrons interact with that material.

In addition to the A6 chip, Chipworks found the Apple 338S1077 Cirrus audio codec (class-D audio amplifier), Murata 339S0171 Wi-Fi module, Qualcomm MDM9615 LTE modem and Qualcomm RTR8600 Multi-band/mode RF transceiver.

The Murata WiFi module is especially interesting:

The Murata Wi-Fi SoC module actually comprises a Broadcom BCM4334 package in addition to an oscillator, capacitors, resistors, etc.

Murata assembles all of the components together and sends their package to Foxconn, where it eventually ends up on the iPhone’s logic board. Chipworks said it best: “Murata makes a house that is full of other people’s furniture.”

As for the A6 package, it’s been confirmed to have 1GB of RAM by Elpida (versus 512MB RAM in the iPhone 4/4S), two ARM CPU cores and three GPU cores. By the way, the same RAM is also used in Motorola’s Droid Razr Maxx.

Here’s your floorplan.


The A6 chip measures 9.70mm wide and 9.97mm tall and has a die area of 96.71 square millimeter.

Oh, in case you’ve been wondering: Sony and OmniVision provide the iSight camera modules for the iPhone 5. Sony supplies the back eight-megapixel package while OmniVision makes the front-facing FaceTime 720p camera.

As for the ARM CPU cores:

When compared to the rigid, efficient layout of the GPU cores directly below it, the layout of the ARM cores looks a little homespun—at first.

Generally, logic blocks are automagically laid out with the use of advanced computer software. However, it looks like the ARM core blocks were laid out manually—as in, by hand.

A manual layout will usually result in faster processing speeds, but it is much more expensive and time consuming.

The manual layout of the ARM processors lends much credence to the rumor that Apple designed a custom processor of the same caliber as the all-new Cortex-A15, and it just might be the only manual layout in a chip to hit the market in several years.

And here’s some more chip porn.


The raised shapes are actually the transistors’ structures. Notice the little pegs running between the transistors? These are the contacts between layers. Remarkable, no?

I guess it’s fair to say that Samsung remains one of Apple’s most important suppliers, but even though the South Korean conglomerate provides the technology and manufacturing capability to mass produce the chip, it’s been heavily customized to Apple’s liking by its internal engineering team stemming from Apple’s Intrinsity and PA Semi acquisitions.

Sounds about right?

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  • Johnathan Jennings

    Dual core and faster than android quad core.. Apple FTW! Again.

  • Zorvage

    On YouTube: Search “iphone 5 vs samsung galaxy s3 speed”

    Click the first one and watch it.

    All I can say is: In your face fandriods!

    • http://www.facebook.com/kooolaj Anuj Mali

      iphone 5 is great ….
      jus one question is white one faster then black one coz i saw lot of comments saying this is it true ?????

      • Blake

        They are exactly the same internally. So no.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kooolaj Anuj Mali

        thank u … !!! but i heard black one is scratch magnet … .?

      • http://www.facebook.com/zacksloane Zachary Sloane

        dude c’mon. You going to comment on every minor issue? It’s anodized aluminum…of course it may scratch a bit. People expect iPhone’s to be dropped and withstain no damage? Or slid across a dirty wooden table and no get scratched? Be realistic.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kooolaj Anuj Mali

        @facebook-1093036765:disqus I phone 4 was pretty much scratch resistance then iphone 5 i assume … ???

      • http://www.facebook.com/zacksloane Zachary Sloane

        @facebook-1558160813:disqus : the iPhone 4/4S was more scratch resistant because it had a GLASS back. It wasn’t anodized aluminum.

    • notewar

      has anyone noticed fandroids use the same 3 excuses and wont ever accept another phone is better then there preferred device lol..
      fandroid: my s3 is way better
      runs all benchmarks iphone wins every one
      fandroid: well thats bc it wasnt the 4core version
      runs benchmarks again with quadcore s3
      iphone still wins everyone
      fandroid: well thats bc its not on jellybean
      runs benchmarks again with jellybean
      iphone wins again
      fandroid:well umm umm my screen is bigger herr derr i win samsung ftw lol

      • Kok Hean

        Saw some comments on a YouTube video that made me confused. Here are the comments.

        Guy 1: the quad core is exactly WHY is is a great phone. you probably wont see a quad core on an iphone for the next three years. having good specs is what makes a phone superior to another phone. a quad core is superior to a dual core. that is the fact of the matter. anyone can agree with that. according to your logic, the iphone 5 is such a great phone that even if it had no camera or had a black and white screen, it would be a better phone than the S3. your logic doesn’t make sense.

        Guy 2: This particular version of the Galaxy S III has specs higher than the iPhone 5. To add on, the US version of the Galaxy S III has 2 gigs of RAM as opposed to 1 gig of RAM on the iPhone 5, yet the latter still performs better. Phones are not all about specs, bro.

        Guy 1: i agree, it is about performance. but better specs mean better performance most of the time. and it could be that his s3 was in battery saving mode.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1201693261 Yamism Qi Ren

        @notewar:disqus even the single-core Nokia Lumia 800 is faster than the dual-core S3, so that pretty much sums it all.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Jones/100000924305932 Nick Jones

        you get a quad core extreme from 2006 (955) and get a core duo from whenever and the 2 core spanks the dog ish out of the quad core. FACT! lol

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1849765376 Jordan Rushing

      Fandroid response: “Keep in mind your iPhone 5 processor is made by an Android producing company, Samsung. Regardless of how fast your iPhone 5 is, if Samsung wanted to put it to shame (iPhone 5) in an Android device, they could, and most likely, will.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/hien.metallium Xellos Metallium

        hahahhahaha

  • http://www.facebook.com/kooolaj Anuj Mali

    iphone 5 is great ….
    jus one question is white one faster then black one coz i saw lot of comments saying this is it true ???

    • Kok Hean

      It’s supposed to be a joke :)

      • Guest

        my Bad … i got troled :9

      • http://www.facebook.com/kooolaj Anuj Mali

        no man i saw a video on youtube for iphone 4s …. but i think uploader was dumb … My bad .. :(

    • http://twitter.com/drfaizii Faiz Sabir

      Dude??? What the hell man?

  • ic0dex

    Wow it’s amazing how us humans can create such powerful chips but yet so tiny that you need a high power microscope to see what’s inside of it.

  • http://twitter.com/lgasparjnr laszlo gaspar

    3 years from now apple will be a chip company and an apple chip in a laptop will become as common as an i3-i7