Finding Apple's A4 foundry
Our silicon analysis on the applications processors revealed that Apple applies new technology to the iPod Touch family (which doesn’t have cellular wireless function) before they apply the same technology to the iPhone family. Applications processors for the iPhone and the iPhone 3G both used the 90nm embedded DRAM process from Samsung.
When Apple switched to 65nm process technology for their own applications processor, they used this same technology for the iPod Touch second generation and then applied it to the iPhone 3GS. The same trend was seen in the iPod Touch third generation and the iPad. Among Apple systems, the iPod Touch third generation, not the iPad, was first to adopt a 45nm applications processor.
Having seen every product Apple has introduced in the mobile market, we were able to quickly discover the process node and foundry of the A4 processor based on the intelligence gathered from previous applications processors. A free report on this evolution is available online.
While process node identification is a rather simple task, identifying foundry or manufacturer of a semiconductor product is often very challenging. Continued coverage of major foundries for multiple process node generations becomes a key to success. We compared features of the A4 such as die edge seals, passivation, and dielectrics against known signatures from a broad range of manufacturers.
We have seen consistent matching between the two 45nm processors from the third generation iPod Touch and the iPad, allowing us to confidently identify Samsung as the foundry of the A4 processor.
Establishing the foundry and process node is an important first step. It allows us to bring knowledge about process characteristics and standard cell libraries to bear when determining how innovative design may have contributed to performance and power consumption.