Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Everything We Think We Know About Apple's Upcoming Custom A6 Chip

Apple’s ARM-based “A” chips have so far followed a fairly predictable development path: here’s what’s in store for the A6

  • June 28, 2011

Ever since the launch of the iPad, Apple has been taking the somewhat radical path of using its own, custom-designed chips as the brains of its mobile devices. The introduction of the iPad 2 marked the debut of the A5 chip, the successor to the A4 in the original iPad. Already, the company is rumored to be working on its successor, the A6, to appear in a future iPad.

The next iPad could be just the start of what the A6 will power

Features and form factors are relatively easy to manipulate; the development pathway for future microchips, somewhat less so. That’s why experts are already predicting with some confidence what will appear in the A6, and how it will affect performance of future iStuff.

1. The A6 will continue to be based on the same ARM architecture that appears in countless other tablet and mobile device CPUs. There’s almost no question about this point – there simply aren’t that many alternatives out there, and Apple’s already fully invested in this architecture as an ARM licensee.

2. The A6 will be a big chip, physically. One of the advantages of printing its own silicon is that Apple isn’t paying a third party by the square centimeter, so bigger chips are actually cheaper, on balance. Already, the A5’s GPU is as big as the entire surface of the Tegra 2 chip that appears in many Android mobile handsets and tablets, says Microprocessor report.

3. The A6 will be quad-core, like its upcoming competitors. This could render the chip too power-hungry and hot to power future models of the iPhone.

4. The A6 will probably use the next-generation PowerVR Series 6 ‘Rogue’ GPU from Imagination Technologies. Apple is an investor in Imagination and has used their GPU in all previous iterations of the A series, reports 9to5 Mac.

5. Apple, isn’t just suing Samsung; it’s also relocating production of its chips to competitor Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. There are only a few chip fabricators in the world on the cutting edge with the scale Apple requires – Samsung, Intel and TSMC. Despite rumors that Apple might pair with Intel, it appears the company is going with TSMC, reports Ars Technica.

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