iPhone 5 A6 chip made by Samsung, ARM cores ‘were laid out manually – as in, by hand,’ iFixit confirms

September 25, 2012
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Since the competition’s flagship smartphone for the following year or so was launched officially in several markets a few days ago, we took it for a ride, literally, and compared it against the most important Android handsets out there, and particularly against the Galaxy S3.

We measured their build quality by arranging a close encounter between each device and some hard concrete in Hong Kong, but we also looked at various other comparisons done by others, including an iPhone 5 vs Galaxy S3 benchmarking comparison and an iPhone 5 vs Galaxy S3 display battle.

The benchmark tests performed by various sites revealed that the iPhone 5 has a powerful A6 processor, and that in various of those tests the device was actually able to beat the Galaxy S3, itself a very powerful device.

And that’s why we’re definitely interested to know more about the custom A6 chip inside the iPhone 5, that lets the new device perform so well in tests. The guys over at iFixit and Chipworks have performed an A6 chip teardown and were able to prove some of the things that were already rumored about the A6.

The chip is a custom Apple creation based on the ARMv7s instruction set, but one that was mass-produced by Samsung on its 32nm CMOS process. But maybe the most interesting finding of this chip teardown is the fact that the ARM core blocks “were laid out manually-as in, by hand:”

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.

Speaking of internal components, the teardown notes that the A6’s 1GB LP DDR2 SDRAM provided by Elpida is also found in the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx.

In addition to the manual layout of the A6, the other takeaway of this teardown is that Apple still relies on Samsung to produce one of the most important components of the new iPhone, and that’s despite the worldwide Apple vs Samsung patent-based legal conflict, which can’t break, at least for now, the multi-billion dollar supply deal between the two. Do you have any comments on the matter?

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