SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Apple iPad 3 is an unbalanced design with an underpowered graphics processor for its high-end display, according to an analysis released Wednesday (Jan. 2) by technology watcher David Kanter. Apple’s quick move to the iPad 4 with a graphics chip bolstered in part by Samsung’s new 32-nm process technology showed that Apple recognized the fault, he said.
The analysis emerges as reports circulate again that Apple is preparing to shift at least some of the manufacturing of its A series processors from Samsung to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. TSMC will start trial production this quarter of the A6X processor used in the iPad 4, according to several reports citing Taiwan newspapers.
Rumors have circulated since March 2011 that Apple will switch from Samsung to TSMC for foundry work. Apple and Samsung are locked in legal battles around the world over patent infringement including one resolved last year in a San Jose trial.
As foundries, Samsung and TSMC both could offer Apple the latest 28 nm processes to bolster performance and lower power for the A series chips. One analyst speculated that Apple may have a long term supply contract for foundry services at Samsung, explaining its slow shift away from its smartphone and tablet competitor. Through much of 2012, TSMC had limited availability of its 28-nm process.
Access to the latest process technology is key for Apple, said Kanter, principal of Real World Technologies. “The high cost and power consumption of the A5X was undoubtedly one of the reasons why Apple opted to discontinue the iPad 3 a mere seven months" after it was launched, he said.
Apple moved quickly to adopt the so-called Retina display from Samsung in the iPad 3 released in March. However, the graphics processor in the A5X chip Apple used--made in a 45-nm Samsung process using “conventional SiON gate dielectrics”--could not adequately feed the new 2048×1536 display, Kanter said.
As an owner of an iPad 3 since it was introduced I can assure you that graphics performance is not underpowered, in fact it plays smoother and with higher frame rates than the Nexus 7 tablet recently released.
The iPad 3 came out last Mar'12. The A5X in it had 2 CPUs and 4 GPUs. Samsung non HKMG 45 nm process was used to build it and the die was huge 165 mm sq. Just a few weeks later ( May '12 ) Samsung brought out its own Galaxy using 32 nm HKMG ! The iPad 4 was relaesed Oct '12 with the A6x in it still with 2 CPUs and 4 GPUs but built with 32 nm HKMG ( device shrink factor 2 ) and the die only 124 sq mm ( die shrink factor 1.33 ), so presumably 50 % more transistors, apart from having a more advanced design.
The root cause of the iPad3 being weak in graphics was that Samsung built the Apple A6 with their non HKMG 45 nm process. Even with 2 GPUs the die was huge and dissipated a lot of heat which is why Apple had to use a Heat Sink on top of the SoC. Several months after the iPad 3 Samsung brought out their own Galaxy S3 using their 32 nm HKMG process. A few months later Samsung used their new Fab process for Apple's A6 in iPad 4. This episode exposed Apple's vulnerability from depending on just one Supplier with its own ambitions.
The results from anandtech also shows a similar pattern. The chip is underpowered for the resolution and does not deliver comparable "fps" for the retina resolution vs standard 1024*768 resolution...
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.