Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Apple's iPhone 6 A8 Teardown

Chipworks has been quick to teardown Apple's A8 processor, which is the secret sauce driving the new iPhone 6. Some details of the teardown are discussed below.

"Apple has spent quite a bit of die size on improving performance through more complex CPU and GPU architectures and miscellaneous feature additions."

A8 is fabricated on TSMC 20nm process while  A7 was manufactured on Samsung 28nm process. Shrinking the transistors gate to 20nm enables the CPU to operate faster. While limiting A8 to 4 GPU cores and not 6 help to reduce the new iPhone power.

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Chipworks Disassembles Apple's A8 SoC: GX6450, 4MB L3 Cache & More

by Ryan Smith on September 23, 2014 1:00 PM EST

One of the more enjoyable rituals with Apple’s annual iPhone launch is the decapping, deconstruction, and photographing of the processor die at the heart of Apple’s newest SoC.  While we can learn a lot about the SoC from software, for some things there’s just no replacement for looking at the hardware itself and counting the functional blocks present. And this year, as in past years, the honor of being the first to tear apart the SoC goes to Chipworks.
For determining the layout of A8, Chipworks reached out to us to solicit our input on their die shot, and after some rounds of going back and forth we believe we’ve come to a solid determination of some of A8’s features and how it has been configured. So let's dive in.
First and foremost we’ll start with A8’s GPU, as this was one of the hardest elements to analyze in software. Based on Apple’s 50% performance improvement we had previously speculated that A8 contained an Imagination PowerVR GX6650. However as we noted back then, a die shot would reveal all, and right on schedule it has.
A close analysis of the die shot makes it clear that there are only 4 GPU cores available and not 6, which immediately rules out the 6 core GX6650 we were previously expecting. Instead with 4 cores present this is conclusive proof that Apple is using the smaller 4 core GX6450 on A8, the direct successor to the G6430 used on the A7. GX6450 induces some performance optimizations along with some feature updates – including ASTC support, which Apple’s documentation has already confirmed is present – so its inclusion here is a natural progression for Apple.
On A8 and its 20nm process this measures at 19.1mm2, versus A7’s 22.1mm2 G6430. As a result Apple is saving some die space compared to A7, but this is being partially offset by the greater complexity of GX6450 and possibly additional SRAM for larger caches on the GPU. Meanwhile looking at the symmetry of the block, it’s interesting that the blocks of texturing resources that every pair of GPU cores share is so visible and so large. With these resources being so big relative to the GPU cores themselves, you can see why Imagination would want to share them as opposed to building them 1:1 with the GPU cores.
Meanwhile opposite the GPU we have the CPU block. Unlike the GPU the CPU block has seen some significant shrinking, which Chipworks estimates is down from 17.1mm2 in A7 to 12.2mm2 in A8. In A7 Cyclone did not lend itself to easily picking apart the individual CPU cores, and neither does the CPU here in A8. We’ll be looking at the new CPU’s architecture in-depth in our iPhone 6 review, but for now it’s safe to say that while this is definitely derived from Cyclone, Apple has added a few tweaks over the last year that make it an even more potent CPU than the first Cyclone. Meanwhile based on this die shot Chipworks believes that the L2 cache has been reorganized to a per-core design, as there is no obvious single block of L2 on A8 like there was A7.

A8 With PoP DRAM Removed
The final major identifiable block on A8 is once again the SRAM cache memory. On A7 we discovered that this block was 4MB and was responsible for servicing the GPU and CPU. On A8 this block is similarly present and serving the same role. This 4MB of SRAM ends up being quite big despite the shrink from 28nm to 20nm, and while at first glance it seems like it should be larger than 4MB given the relative size, in practice what has happened is that the individual SRAM cells have not shrunk by a full 50%. Chipworks estimates the cell size to now be about 0.08µm2, versus 0.12µm2 on A7, which is closer to a 33% shrink that a 50% shrink. As a result the SRAM cache still takes up a fair bit of space, but the value of being able to serve larger memory requests without having to go off-die continues to be immense.
Apple A8 vs A7 SoCs
 Apple A8 (2014)Apple A7 (2013)
Manufacturing ProcessTSMC 20nm HKMGSamsung 28nm HKMG
Die Size89mm2104mm2
Transistor Count~2B"Over 1B"
CPU2 x Apple Enhanced Cyclone ARMv8 64-bit cores2 x Apple Cyclone ARMv8 64-bit cores
GPUIMG PowerVR GX6450IMG PowerVR G6430
Overall, Chipworks’ analysis points to A8 being fabbed on TSMC’s 20nm process. This makes A8 among the first SoCs to receive the 20nm treatment. Thanks to this smaller node Apple has been able to build in additional features to the SoC while simultaneously shaving off around 15% of their die size. Chipworks estimates the final die size of A8 to stand at 89mm2, versus the 104mm2 for the Samsung 28nm based A7. Chipworks notes that if this were a straight shrink that one would expect the A8 to be closer to 50% the size of A7 (though not all logic can shrink quite that well), which indicates that Apple has spent quite a bit of die size on improving performance through more complex CPU and GPU architectures and miscellaneous feature additions.
Wrapping things up, we’ll be back later this month with our review of the iPhone 6 family and our full analysis of the A8 SoC. So until then stay tuned.

Friday, September 19, 2014

iPhone 6+ Secret Sauce

Apple’s customers upgrade cycle to iPhone 6 plus will help many semiconductor companies. The key suppliers are in the article below -

"the biggest winders are Avago, SkyWorks and NXP, who have seen component content for the iPhone 6 increase by 30 to 90 percent compared to the iPhone 5S. Qualcomm also gains more carrier aggregation, and the NAND boost to 128GB "

The 64 bit A8 processor is the secret sauce giving the iPhone its battery and operation performance.

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What's inside the iPhone 6 Plus?

Summary: A teardown of the new iPhone 6 Plus reveals hidden innovations that Apple didn’t tell us about.
iPhone 6 Plus teardown
(Image: iFixit)
Today's the day that the iPhone 6 finally falls into the sweaty paws of the masses. And one of the first iPhone 6 Pluses off the production line has fallen into the hands of the iFixit team and is immortalized in their latest teardown.

Here is a listing of the chips that have so far been identified:
Inside the iPhone 6 Plus are an array of chips from a number of vendors including Qualcomm, Broadcom, NXP, Texas Instruments, and Avago. And taking pride of place in the middle of all that is Apple's own A8 processor, and that's teamed with 1GB of Elpida LPDDR3 RAM.
  • Apple A8 APL1011 SoC + Elpida 1 GB LPDDR3 RAM (as denoted by the markings EDF8164A3PM-GD-F)
  • NXP LPC18B1UK ARM Cortex-M3 Microcontrollers (which is the proper name for the M8 motion coprocessor)
  • Qualcomm MDM9625M LTE Modem
  • Skyworks 77802-23 Low Band LTE PAD
  • Avago A8020 High Band PAD
  • Avago A8010 Ultra High Band PA + FBARs
  • TriQuint TQF6410 3G EDGE power amplifier module
  • InvenSense MP67B 6-axis gyroscope and accelerometer combo
  • Qualcomm QFE1000 Envelope Tracking IC
  • RF Micro Devices RF5159 Antenna Switch Module
  • SkyWorks 77356-8 Mid Band PAD
  • SK Hynix H2JTDG8UD1BMS 128 Gb (16 GB) NAND Flash
  • Murata 339S0228 Wi-Fi Module
  • Apple/Dialog 338S1251-AZ Power Management IC
  • Broadcom BCM5976 Touchscreen Controller
  • NXP 65V10 NFC module (likely contains an NXP PN544 NFC controller inside)
  • Qualcomm WTR1625L RF Transceiver
  • Qualcomm WFR1620 receive-only companion chip
  • Qualcomm PM8019 power management IC
  • Texas Instruments 343S0694 touch transmitter
  • AMS AS3923 boosted NFC tag front end
  • Cirrus Logic 338S1201 audio codec
According to Sterne Agee analysts Vijay Rakesh and Troy Cowdrey the biggest winders are Avago, SkyWorks and NXP, who have seen component content for the iPhone 6 increase by 30 to 90 percent compared to the iPhone 5S. Qualcomm also gains more carrier aggregation, and the NAND boost to 128GB is also good for memory suppliers Micron and Sandisk.
The battery is a monster 43 gram unit and is rated at 3.82 V and 11.1 Wh of energy, for a total of 2915 mAh, which is nearly double the capacity of the battery found inside the iPhone 5S, and slightly bigger than the battery inside the Galaxy S5. The new battery gives the iPhone 6 Plus up to 24 hours on 3G, and 384 hours of standby time, which is a huge increase over both the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 6.
iPhone 6 Plus battery
(Image: iFixit)
There are also many more internal improvements that apple has made to the iPhone 6 Plus. The new iSight camera features phase-detection autofocus – common on DSLRs but relatively new to smartphones – and optical stabilization.
However, when it comes to the protruding "camera nubbin," even iFixit are worried about the impact and impact might have on it (pun fully intended).
"The lens cover may be made out of sapphire glass, but we're still concerned about what this design choice might mean for durability," iFixit writes in their teardown piece.
iPhone 6 Plus camera
(Image: iFixit)
Also new is the vibrator assembly that replaces the old style "motor with an off-set weight" with an electromagnet that vibrates a weight. It's a pretty cool and novel approach to vibrations. I suspect the new design is not only more robust, but allows for a greater range of vibrations.
The power and volume buttons on the new iPhone now feature a rubber gasket that should help with keeping dirt, dust and moisture from making its way inside the handset.
iFixit awarded the iPhone 6 Plus a repairability score of 7 out of 10 (where 10 is the easiest to repair). Praised was the ease of access and how simple screen and battery replacements, and the fact that the fingerprint sensor cable has been rerouted and lengthened (the previous design made tearing the cable easy when opening the handset). However, they criticized the use of proprietary Pentalobe screws and the fact that Apple doesn't share repair information with third-parties.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

SanDisk ULLtraDIMM gaining traction

Huawei servers add flash DIMMs to their RH8100 servers (see below).

Are Dell, HP and Cisco next?

More about SanDisk ULLtraDIMMs

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Semiconductor information and news at -

Huawei: Our servers are a flash in the DRAM – thanks, SanDisk

Chinese box builder flings ULLtraDIMMs into processor memory bus – IBM, Dell next?