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

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?