Apple poaching Broadcom talent as rumors of in-house baseband chip development intensify

By Christian Zibreg on Apr 9, 2014

Following talk of Apple’s rumored initiative that would have it develop its own baseband chips for 2015 iPhones and iPads in-house, AppleInsider has learned the firm’s recently poached a pair of longtime semiconductor engineers from chipmaker Broadcom.

Both men are experienced at building RF hardware and have led the effort to produce baseband transceivers used by Nokia and Samsung devices.

Apple counts Broadcom as its supplier: the iPhone 5s uses a Broadcom touchscreen controller and the handset’s Wi-Fi chip by Murata is based on Broadcom’s BCM4334 module, according to a teardown analysis by repair experts over at iFixIt… Read More

 

Apple allegedly working on its own baseband chips for 2015 iPhones and iPads

By Christian Zibreg on Apr 8, 2014

As you know, Apple’s in-house teams have been designing the engine that drives the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Apple TV devices for years now. However, the company still sources one crucial piece of silicon from a third-party: it buys baseband modems that provide the iPhone and iPad with cellular connectivity from Qualcomm. But even that could soon change, if a new rumor is an indication.

DigiTimes, the hit-and-miss Taiwanese trade publication, is reporting that Apple is planning to form a research and development team to engineer baseband processors for iPhones fully in-house. The move would empower the firm to take an even greater control of its chip destiny.

In years past, Apple acquired several fabless semiconductor makers such as PA Semi and Intrinsity for their talent and technology. Apple now has over a thousand silicon and wireless engineers who design A-series of chips in house by licensing CPU and GPU blueprints from ARM and Imagination Technology, respectively, optimizing their designs for speed, low power consumption and iOS… Read More

 

Rumor: Apple buying Renesas SP Drivers to improve iPhone battery life and image sharpness

By Christian Zibreg on Apr 1, 2014

The Japanese business site Nikkei is reporting that Apple is in discussions with chipmaker Renesas Electronics concerning taking over their division that builds mobile display chips, Renesas SP Drivers.

The deal should enable Tim Cook & Co. to bring another technological piece under their roof and help Apple’s engineers “improve image sharpness and battery life” on iPhones.

Renesas Electronics is included on the official list of Apple’s suppliers. Apple is known for investing in its partners and suppliers when it makes sense. For instance, the company holds a ten percent stake in UK’s fabless semiconductor maker Imagination Technologies which provides blueprints for GPUs used in iOS devices… Read More

 

New report alleges Samsung will build iPhone 6′s A8 processor after all

By Christian Zibreg on Mar 10, 2014

Shortly after Taiwan’s Commercial Times ran a story about Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) seemingly having started production of an upcoming Apple-designed A8 chip on an exclusive basis (as Samsung reportedly dropped out of the race due to yield issues), an unnamed Samsung executive in a defensive PR move took to blogs to argue that the rumor is greatly exaggerated.

Pouring cold water on the Commercial Times report, the Galaxy maker told ZDNet Korea (via GforGames) that the conglomerate has already signed a contract with Apple concerning next-generation A8 chip production. Moreover, the firm is currently in the final testing phases and is gearing up to kick off mass A8 production at its Austin, Texas facility.

The multi-billion dollar chip plant is almost entirely dedicated to Apple silicon production. Samsung’s semiconductor arm has thus far churned out every iOS device processor since the original iPhone… Read More

 

TSMC allegedly started producing A8 processor for iPhone 6 last month

By Christian Zibreg on Mar 5, 2014

A new story published by Taiwan’s Commercial Times (Google translate) and relayed by Agence France Presse has it that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest independent foundry, has begun churning out A8 chips that will likely serve as the engine for the coming wave of iOS devices, namely the iPhone 6 and the next iPad.

TSMC also builds Touch ID sensors for the iPhone 5s. The firm is understood to account for the bulk of A8 chip manufacture as Apple’s been attempting to decrease its reliance on Samsung, which up until recently used to exclusively build mobile processors for iOS devices based on Apple’s blueprints… Read More

 

An in-depth look at how Touch ID, A7, and Secure Enclave boost iOS security

By Christian Zibreg on Feb 26, 2014

We know quite a lot about the iPhone 5s’s fingerprint scanner, Touch ID. The advanced sensor works seamlessly and learns more about your prints over time so it continues to expand your fingerprint map as additional overlapping nodes are identified with each use.

It can match prints in any orientation, unless your fingers are greasy or wet, or there’s some dirt or debris on the Home button. There’s a 1 in 50,000 chance of a successful random match with someone else’s print, which is much better than the 1 in 10,000 odds of guessing a typical four-digit passcode.

The Touch ID sensor doesn’t store actual fingerprint images and instead creates an encrypted profile of your print and stores it on a module on the A7 processor called the Secure Enclave that’s walled off from the rest of the system.

After five unsuccessful fingerprint match attempts, or after every restart, the system asks for your passcode  so that hackers can’t stall for time. These are pretty much key pieces of information on Touch ID that was made public since its inception.

Today, Apple updated its iOS Security white paper [PDF download] with a few previously unknown specifics relating to how Touch ID works side by side with the A7 chip and its Secure Enclave portion to detect a fingerprint match in a highly secure manner. The document also details other security safeguards Apple put in place to prevent tampering with fingerprint data… Read More

 

Broadcom launches Gigabit Wi-Fi chip that will likely power the next iPhone

By Christian Zibreg on Feb 25, 2014

Imagination Technologies, the fabless British semiconductor maker, yesterday at Mobile World Congress detailed its new PowerVR graphics which outperforms Nvidia’s Tegra K1 platform and is a likely candidate for the next iPhone’s GPU. And now, another premium silicon vendor has announced a chip that could just as easily find its way into future iOS devices.

I’m talking about Broadcom, whose Wi-Fi chips and other controller components are used in the iPhone 5s and iPad lineup. The Irvine, California based firm announced at Mobile World Congress a new fifth-generation 802.11ac Wi-Fi component which doubles data throughput and increases Wi-Fi coverage by up to 30 percent.

Should Apple choose to tap it, the iPhone 6 and the next iPad will adopt Gigabit Wi-Fi aka 802.11ac, the latest and greatest standard in wireless networking for the consumer market… Read More

 

Imagination spotlights likely iPhone 6 GPU: 192 cores, 4K resolution, smokes Tegra K1 violently

By Christian Zibreg on Feb 24, 2014

Apple’s been using GPU parts from Imagination Technologies since switching to its own in-house designed iOS device processors, starting with the iPhone 3Gs in 2009. This UK-based firm does not churn out actual chips. Instead, it licenses out its GPU designs and intellectual property to vendors like Apple, Intel, Qualcomm and many others – that’s why “they” call it a fabless semiconductor maker.

Now, Apple’s engine that powers iOS devices typically combines Imagination’s GPU and ARM’s CPU blueprints with some memory, I/O logic and other supporting functions on a single die, a solution known in the semiconductor industry as a system-on-a-chip (SoC).

Moreover, both Apple and Intel own a stake in Imagination, another indication of its importance to Apple’s mobile future. See, Imagination’s PowerVR graphics processors coupled with Apple’s efficient mobile operating system have been largely responsible for the smooth graphics, transitions and animations seen throughout iOS. It’s the reason iOS is the smoothest mobile OS out there.

At CES earlier this year, Imagination unveiled a new GPU that we suspect should make its way into upcoming iOS devices. Today, the company is detailing some of its more intricate aspects and boy does it make our hearts sing: it supports 4K resolutions and outperforms even Nvidia’s upcoming Tegra K1, apparently enabling the most powerful graphics yet in mobile phones and tablets… Read More

 

Rumor: iPhone 6′s A8 chip won’t integrate LTE

By Christian Zibreg on Feb 18, 2014

Starting with the iPhone 5, Apple has switched to using a single-chip LTE module which, by the way, costs $10 more than the cellular module in the iPhone 4s.

There has been talk lately of Apple possibly adopting a tightly integrated solution that would combine both LTE modem and a main processor on a single A8 chip, akin to many Android devices.

According to a new report by Fudzilla, this won’t happen in the next iPhone generation as Apple is once again looking to turn to its longtime supplier Qualcomm for dedicated LTE chips… Read More

 

Rumor: Samsung not churning out Apple’s A8 chip for the next iPhone and iPad due to low yields

By Christian Zibreg on Feb 17, 2014

Apple’s upcoming A8 mobile processor is of course expected to power the next wave of iPhone and iPad devices, but the advanced chip apparently won’t be manufactured by Samsung, which fabbed all of A-series processors since the iPhone 4′s 2010 A4 chip.

According to a new report out of China, Samsung is experiencing yield issues and in turn has dropped out of Apple’s A8 chip production… Read More

 

Apple renews contract with its mobile GPU provider, Imagination Technologies

By Christian Zibreg on Feb 6, 2014

The fabless semiconductor maker, Imagination Technologies, has been providing Apple’s iPad and iPhone with its graphics and video hardware since 2007. On Thursday, the UK-based company announced extending its licensing agreement with Apple, giving the iPhone maker multi-year access to Imagination’s current and future PowerVR-branded graphics and video GPU blueprints.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Both Apple and Intel are investors in Imagination, with the former holding a ten percent ownership stake in the company… Read More

 

University of Wisconsin takes Apple to court over A7′s performance-enhancing tricks

By Christian Zibreg on Feb 3, 2014

The University of Wisconsin via its patent-licensing arm, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, has filed a lawsuit against Apple alleging the company’s in-house designed A7 chip infringes the foundation’s patent designed to improve “the efficiency and performance of contemporary computer processors” by introducing a new process for allowing quicker execution of processor instructions.

It’s been reported Monday that Apple’s 64-bit A7 chip, which acts as the primary engine driving the iPhone 5s, the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina display, apparently uses this technology without permission… Read More

 

Rumor: Taiwanese companies land Apple A8 packaging orders

By Christian Zibreg on Jan 27, 2014

An Apple-designed mobile processor for this year’s iPads and iPhones will be probably labeled ’A8‘ and supply chain rumors have asserted that the world’s top independent semiconductor foundry, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), will share orders with Samsung, whose multi-billion dollar Austin, Texas plant used to exclusively churn out Apple’s A-series chips.

Like the A7, the A8 is said to use package-on-package design which combines the CPU part and mobile DRAM in a single package for increased performance and optimized power consumption… Read More

 

Rumor: TSMC to start churning out Touch IDs for the next iPhone this summer

By Christian Zibreg on Jan 14, 2014

According to industry sources, Apple has seemingly commissioned Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to build Touch ID fingerprint sensors for a next-generation iPhone, dubbed by the press the iPhone 6.

The manufacture of the sensors should start in the second quarter of 2014 at TSMC’s twelve-inch fab, using the company’s 65-nanometer process, according to a report the Asian industry publication DigiTimes filed on Tuesday… Read More

 

Mac Pro’s CPU upgradeability confirmed

By Christian Zibreg on Jan 3, 2014

Despite what some would call a steep asking price, Apple’s desktop powerhouse – the new Mac Pro - has been universally regarded by reviewers as the dream machine for content creators who desperately wanted a reasonably priced monster workstation that would make real-time 4K video editing a reality. And despite scarce availability – online orders slipped to February and in-store availability is not expected before March – the new Mac Pro never ceases to amaze us.

Some power users have voiced their concern that Apple would, as is often its wont, lock down the system to allow only for memory upgrades. As it turns out, the new Mac Pro is one of Apple’s most expandable Macs, if not the most expandable one.

A teardown analysis by iFixIt has revealed a socketed Intel CPU, accessible RAM and no proprietary Torx screws (go figure!), giving the workstation an eight out of ten for repairability.

Earlier in the week, Other World Computing (OWC) has confirmed that the Mac Pro’s Intel Xeon E5 processor was socketed and removable. Today, the OWC team said it’s successfully swapped the stock CPU with an eight-core Xeon E5–2667 V2 chip not offered as the Online Apple Store’s built-to-order option… Read More

 

Good news, tinkerers: Mac Pro’s CPU is removable

By Christian Zibreg on Dec 27, 2013

Quick, what’s more painful than dropping anywhere between $3,000 to $20,000 on Apple’s juicy new Mac Pro? Being unable to perform a DIY upgrade of the computer’s main processor to a faster Intel chip down the road, of course! But worry not as a quick teardown has confirmed an upgradeable CPU so tinkerers and creative pros around the world can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Other World Computing, a U.S. company which has been in the business of selling various after-market upgrades for Apple products since 1998, has tore apart the new Mac Pro to reveal a socketed Intel Xeon E5 chip, potentially allowing for future upgrades… Read More

 

TSMC to account for bulk of 14nm Apple A9 chips in 2015, industry sources claim

By Christian Zibreg on Dec 18, 2013

After reporting that Apple supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) will share next year’s production of A8 chips with Samsung, the sometimes-reliable Taiwanese publication, DigiTimes, today said that the world’s largest independent semiconductor foundry will account for more than half of total A9 chip output in 2015, with only one-third of chip manufacture to be handled by Samsung.

The South Korea-based Samsung up until this year used to exclusively produce Apple designed mobile processors for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices, but Apple’s been looking to distance itself from the company in order to prevent Samsung engineers from getting an early glimpse into its upcoming chip tech… Read More

 

Actually, it was Samsung who sub-contracted GlobalFoundries to build Apple chips

By Christian Zibreg on Nov 12, 2013

Yesterday, the unconfirmed news broke out about a surprise tie-in between Apple and GlobalFoundries, the world’s top semiconductor foundry second only to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) which counts Nvidia, Broadcom, Qualcomm and AMD as its clients.

The Albany Times Union newspaper asserted that GlobalFoundries will build Apple’s A-series chips for iOS devices at a new $6 billion facility in upstate New York. The development has led some folks to conjure up that Apple could be finally ditching Samsung for semiconductor manufacture, but that’s not really the case at all. Read on… Read More

 

Apple may have partnered with GlobalFoundries on iDevice chip production

By Christian Zibreg on Nov 11, 2013

Milpitas, California-headquartered GlobalFoundries, one of the top semiconductor operations in the world, owns and runs cutting-edge multi-billion dollar production facilities all over the globe in places like Germany, Singapore and the United States.

Along with TSMC, GlobalFoundries gets frequently contracted to build various chips for such clients as AMD, Broadcom, Qualcomm and STMicroelectronics. And now, the company has apparently scored a major win, Apple, if a new report is anything to go by.

According to an unnamed source “close to the company” who spoke to the Times Union newspaper, GlobalFoundries may soon start building processors for iPhones, iPads and iPods at its new $6 billion Fab 8 facility in Malta, New York, just north of Albany… Read More

 

Intel relents, will make third-party ARM mobile chips in 2014

By Christian Zibreg on Oct 30, 2013

In a surprise announcement that sent shockwaves throughout the technology industry, Intel said it will open kimono to arch-rival TSMC and begin making chips for third-parties, based on CPU blueprints from the British fabless semiconductor maker ARM Holdings, plc. Apple is among the licensees of ARM’s technology for its own in-house chips which serve as the engine powering the iPhone, iPad and iPod devices.

This is a huge development. Not only will Intel, the world’s largest semiconductor company, now fabricate its own ARM-based 64-bit mobile chips starting next year, it will now undoubtedly compete for the lucrative Apple business, especially given the iPhone maker has long been looking to take its chip-making contract elsewhere… Read More

 
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