Apple's introduction of the iPad Mini provides new clues about where it is headed in terms of processor technology and memory as well external and internal design.
The rumors ahead of this week's Apple event suggested just about everything Mac was going to be updated--along with the launch of the iPad Mini. I thought Apple was being too ambitious.
The scope of Apple's announcements did not disappoint. Beyond the iPad Mini, after all, the iMac, 13-inch MacBook Pro and iPad were not simply processor speed bumps or increases in memory capacity, but wholesale changes of the internal and/or external design.
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Detail about the specifications are widely available, so I want to touch on four things that caught my attention.
Apple said the iMac’s thinner design was made possible through the use of friction stir welding for aluminum. While it might have sounded new, there is in fact a long list of issued patents associated with this technique. This application of the technique provides some background on how the process.
Also associated with the iMac was the so-called “Fusion Drive.” The concept of a hybrid SSD and HDD is not new. Access time acceleration for flash and bulk file storage in the HDD is quite good using this approach. Time will tell whether Apple is using off-the shelf components or if they have a more customized approach. I suspect that such a system really depends on the controlling software, as it is up to the software to determine what files are kept on each drive.
The last two things I noticed were related to iPad 4 and the iPad Mini.
Along with iPad 4 came the A6X. As usual, few details were available other than a 2X performance boost on the CPU and GPU compared to the A5X. The most interesting thing will be how it differs from the A5X, including the die size. Here we can look to the A5X for inspiration.
Finally, the iPad Mini sports a "Dual Core A5". The naming is likely a throwback to the “Single Core A5” that now powers the Apple TV. As discussed, this is more marketing than design.
Still, with these processor announcements we got new data points indicating a split in Apple’s processor efforts. The A# processors seem destined for smaller display idevices while the A#X processors are being used solely for the 10-inch iPads. The announcement also indicate a somewhat stunted life for the A5X.
--Paul Boldt is a principal analyst at ned, maude, todd & rod Inc., an Ottawa-based technology research company.
(Editor's note: This blog first appeared in www.engineering.com. It was re-posted here by permission.)