Posted: November 1, 2012
Apple was not done with just the announcement of the iPad Mini on October 23rd, 2012. Catching many industry-observers off guard, and going against their typical one iPad-per-year product cycle, Apple stunned reporters with the announcement of a fourth generation iPad (or iPad 4). Just over six months since the release of the iPad 3, the new iPad 4 introduces a new variant on the Apple A6 processor found within the iPhone 5. The Apple iPad 4 features the latest processor in the “A” family, the A6X. Like the A6, the A6X features two customized ARM cores. However, this new processor now features four graphic cores, as opposed to the three graphic cores featured in the Apple A6.
Apart from the change in processor, Apple has been quite mum on what other changes are in store for their latest iPad. Will taking apart this device reveal some design changes from the previous generation iPad, or has Apple created a product that only requires a change of software and a swap out of processors? Taking a look inside will answer those questions.
When we picked up our iPad 4 on November 2nd (coincidentally, at the same time we picked up our iPad Mini), we took it to our lab as soon as we could to take it apart and analyze what, if any, differences there were between this new iPad and the iPad 3 aka the new iPad…?
Almost instantly upon taking the iPad 4 apart, we discovered a product that was not much different at all from the iPad 3. In fact, apart from a change in processors (from the Apple A5X to the Apple A6X) and a move to their proprietary Lightning connector dock, there isn’t anything new in terms of the semiconductors that make up the tablet. One has to wonder if Apple expects to sell the same type of volume (usually tens of millions) of this new iPad if the general perception is this new iPad is just the iPad 3 with a faster processor.
Consequently, the major design winners from the Apple iPad 3 retain their sockets in the iPad 4, including long time partner – Broadcom. Broadcom retained their three major design wins from the iPad 3, two of which were for their touchscreen controllers (the BCM5974 and the BCM5973 both of which have been found in the previous iPads and the 1st generation of the iPhone). The other major design win comes for their four-in-one combo wireless chip, the BCM4334, which was also found in the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3. Below are some images of the Broadcom ICs we’ve analyzed using our de-encapsulation (decap) process:
Inside the Murata module containing the Broadcom BCM4334, Die marking of the BCM5974, Die photo of the BCM5973A
Apple is well-known for branding IC’s with their recognizable trademark. Either in an effort to prevent competitors from learning about their design selections, or based on agreements they have in place with manufacturers, Apple devices tend to have components where the manufacturer is not easily determined. Fortunately, due to our decap process, we can find out the secrets inside these chips.
This device was also found within the iPhone 5 and continues Cirrus Logic’s relationship with the Apple that began back with the Apple iPhone 3GS.
Both image sensors found in the newest iPad are the same as those found in the iPad 3 developed by Omnivision. Omnivision provides the OV297AA 1.2 Mega Pixel (MP) camera and the OV290B 5 MP Backside Illumination Camera Module. To date, no iPad has used a Sony image sensor, unlike that of the iPhone family.
Finally, confirmed within the new Apple iPad, is another design win for Dialog. The D1974 power management unit makes it the third unique PMU to be used in each generation of iPad.
Apple is known for multi-sourcing its manufacturers of Flash for their products. It could very well be Toshiba in one iPad and Samsung in another. In the case of our iPad, we see the same NAND Flash that we also found in the 16GB model of the iPad 2 from Hynix. Hynix’s H2DTDG8UD1MBR is a 16GB of NAND Flash Memory Package that features two 64 Gbit dies to equal 16 GBytes of memory.
On the display side of things, Apple’s Retina-based touchscreen incorporates some key design wins across numerous semiconductor manufacturers. These include Texas Instruments providing the touchscreen line driver, NXP getting a socket for their CBTL1608A1 display port multiplexer, and Parade’s DP635 direct drive LCD timing controller. Integrated Memory Logic (iML) gets another design win for their iML7990 programmable gamma buffer (also used in the iPad 3) while RichTek’s RT9910 acts as a power management IC for the touchscreen display.
Inside the new Apple iPad, or iPad 4, lies a modified A6 processor dubbed the A6X. This modified A6 processor still features two application processor cores and operates at 1 GHz, however, the architecture has been modified to include quad-core graphics as opposed from the three-core graphics of the A6. We suspect that this new processor continues to feature the PowerVR SGX543 family GPU. From the decap image, right away you can see how the A6X processor is larger in area than its predecessor and the addition of another 543MP graphics core accounts for most of that increase. A quick comparison of the A6 die to the A6X die shows an increase of 30% in die area. These cores are much different in size and shape in comparison to the Apple A6.
The distinctive die mark also matches that of Samsung-manufactured devices indicating that, once again, Apple has decided to partner with its tablet adversary despite the contentious litigation that continues between both parties.
The previous A6 processor A6 measures 96.5 mm2 in area, The new A6X processor A6X measures 124 mm2 in area
Apple A6X wordmark points to Samsung as the manufacturer.
Floorplan of the Apple A6 Processor, The new A6X floorplan
Once the iPad 4 was deconstructed, it was quite evident how similar this device was to the iPad 3. Only time will tell if consumers are willing to trade in an iPad that was purchased 7 months ago for a model that performs better.
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