An initial analysis of the Apple-designed A9 system-on-a-chip powering the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, conducted by semiconductor experts over at Chipworks, has identified both Samsung and rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company as manufacturers of the package.
What’s really interesting is that the A9 comes in two sizes, depending on who manufactured it, with the Samsung-built units being a bit smaller than those manufactured by TSMC. This is the first time an Apple-designed processor for an iPhone came in two different sizes.
The Samsung-built edition of the A9 carries a model number of APL0898 and measures in at 96 square millimeters. By comparison, the A9 units built on TSMC’s process are labelled as APL1022 and measure in at 104.5 square millimeters.
“It was a surprise to find two different application processors in two otherwise identical phones,” said Chipworks, adding that the smaller die size “shows a leadership in technology scaling for Samsung.”
The chip wizards speculate that the decision to dual-source a custom designed part and launching on day one with both parts may suggest “major sourcing problems”.
However, Apple is known from sourcing parts from multiple suppliers in order to reduce exposure to any single supplier and achieve lower pricing.
Why would Apple use two different technologies to produce the A9?
The answer to that question lies in the fact that Samsung uses a 14-nanometer fabbing technology while TSMC couldn’t ramp up its own 14-nanometer process on time so they used their 16-nanometer process instead.
Chipworks will be decapsulating and cross-sectioning the chips in the coming days and we’ll be posting the results of their analysis to keep you informed.