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Updated: Samsung fabs Apple A5 processor

Rick Merritt

3/12/2011 5:53 PM EST

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Samsung fabs the A5 processor used in the Apple iPad 2, according to teardowns of the system and chip conducted by UBM TechInsights, a division of United Business Media, publisher of EE Times.

"We can say with 100 percent certainty that this is a Samsung-made chip," said Allan Yogasingam, a technical marketing manager for TechInsights.

The company conducted a cross-section analysis of the chip that revealed details indicating Samsung made the chip in its 45nm process, the same process and fab Apple used for its previous generation A4 SoC. Previously, several sources speculated Apple might take the business of having its internally designed A5 SoC to TSMC.

The Apple A4 and A5 chips both are made in a 45nm Samsung process with nine metal layers and one poly layer. They both use a stacked package-on-package technology, according to TechInsights. A comparison of the differences between the two chips is here.

TechInsights used optical die and SEM cross-section images to analyse important features such as die edge seal, metal 1 pitch, logic and SRAM transistor gate measurements.  These features were then compared to other manufacturers in the company's database, including other Samsung 45nm parts.


The A5 supports low power DDR2 DRAM memory, something previously rumoured and now confirmed by the TechInsights analysis. In separate teardowns in Austin and Ottawa, TechInsights found two different LP-DDR2 DRAMs from two different manufacturers, Samsung and Elpida.


The Samsung K4P2G324EC LP-DDR2 die marks the first time analysts have seen Samsung’s new 46nm LP-DDR2 memory.


A separate analysis conducted by IO Snoops found that while the Apple A4 clock speed was steady at 1 GHz, the A5 clock speed varies depending on the application being run.  TechInsights said the finding indicates advanced power management circuitry controlling the clock speeds of the cores—something new for the A5. The new feature may explain the use of a power management IC from Dialog Semiconductor on the iPad 2 that is different from the chip on previous Apple products.


TechInsights will continue to analyze the A5 over the next several days. Meanwhile, analysts provided a handful of pictures from their A5 chip teardown.


The picture of the A5 die markings (below) were the first indication the chip could be a Samsung manufactured device. The A5 markings used a font similar to the one used on the Apple A4 (shown in the insert).




1. Samsung fabs Apple A5
2. Die photo of the A5
3. Side view of A5 shows stacked dice
4. SEM cross-section of A5
5. A4, A5 chips compared





mark.lapedus

3/13/2011 1:05 AM EST

Samsung made the first A5 chips. Then, however, TSMC will reportedly ramp the A5 in Q3 or Q4, according to sources. TSMC could be a second source to Samsung for the 45- and 40-nm version. Then, TSMC will fab the 28-nm version, sources said.

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melgross

3/13/2011 11:33 AM EDT

There are no sources, just one analyst making a guess.

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rick.merritt

3/13/2011 1:16 AM EST

Guess we'll have to wait for the teardown of the iPad 3 to find out if that comes to pass ;-)

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mark.lapedus

3/13/2011 3:18 AM EDT

I don't have to wait. The cat (TSMC) is out of the (Apple) bag.

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rfab

3/13/2011 9:53 AM EDT

Starting from 2007, the Taiwanese rumor many times, what is OEM XBOX CPU, OEM ATOM, OEM INTEL chipset, OEM A5, a result of a bankruptcy can be seen from here in the downhill TSMC

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rfab

3/13/2011 9:56 AM EDT

Is entirely speculation, APPLE's Samsung SOC design, foundry TSMC has not showed

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GREAT-Terry

3/13/2011 11:11 AM EDT

Does anybody know why Samsung can still win the right to manufacture the A5 this time? Is it because of a better fab process or something else that Taiwanese can't really compete with?

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cheonoh.lee

3/14/2011 5:33 AM EDT

Samsung Fab has great merit like free IP use fee, ultimate design support and 24 hours support.

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resistion

3/14/2011 5:11 AM EDT

Samsung must have given Apple some special break. Could every Galaxy tablet sold have a kickback?

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resistion

3/14/2011 5:25 AM EDT

On the other hand, TSMC and GlobalFoundries both make Snapdragon for Qualcomm, which is used to power the HTC phones competing with Iphone. So I don't see why ultimately Apple won't use both Samsung and TSMC. Ultimately it can impose capacity burden on competing products at least indirectly.

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resistion

3/14/2011 6:06 AM EDT

http://forums.vr-zone.com/news-around-the-web/165480-most-chips-inside-iphone-made-tsmc.html

It seems Apple already gives TSMC a lot of business, even if it's not the core processor or leading edge. Also TSMC does not manufacture its own tablet competitor, of course it's harder to leverage.

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selinz

3/14/2011 9:33 PM EDT

Regardless of the fabricator, I'm impressed with the packaging.. That's an impressive stackup..

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eewiz

3/21/2011 12:30 AM EDT

Probably Samsung gave low rates to fab the A5 to keep an eye on Apple's progress with the CPU. I mean the A5, has beaten even the NVdia Tegra 2 in terms of graphics performance.

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DynamicLogic.US

3/21/2011 1:11 AM EDT

Apple designed my SigmaTel team's AV SOC out of iPod Shuffle Gen1 when Samsung offered a pairing discount for flash. It was hard to compete with that on price. The Asus fab produced over 100k PCBs with out part and embedded software though, before it was done.

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DynamicLogic.US

3/21/2011 1:15 AM EDT

Asus 100k PCBs per day is enough to earn some profit for a fabless semi firm. Now as the XILINX ZYNQ system architect in platform planning, this iPad2 teardown and A5 analysis listed is interesting in that ZYNQ has a dual ARM A9 + 128 bit NEON vector processing + Programmable Logic and a wealth of validated high performance soft IP cores to drop into the PL all of which is 28nm TSMC. XILINX will let the world know when that innovation platform is ready for your designs.

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