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Apple launches A4: its first custom CPU

updated 03:10 pm EST, Wed January 27, 2010

Apple A4 made by PA Semi, integrates GPU

Apple as part of its iPad introduction revealed its first self-produced processor, the A4. The ARM-based chip is made by the company's PA Semi team and incorporates a graphics core and memory controller into the main processor. Most details are still unclear, but it runs at 1GHz and is particularly power-efficient: Apple estimates 10 hours of Wi-Fi browsing or video and a full month of standby.

Early estimates suggest the design is based on ARM's Cortex-A9 and may involve dual cores.

3G battery life is unknown but should be shorter. It's similarly unclear how the processor compares to its rivals, like the Qualcomm Snapdragon. Although Qualcomm's chip is clocked at a similar speed, it's based on an earlier architecture. Hands-on tests so far suggest it feels noticeably faster than the iPhone 3GS.

The company hasn't said who assembles the A4, though Samsung has usually manufactured the processor. Apple is likely to use the A4 or a variant of it in future handhelds, including the iPhone and iPod.

By Electronista Staff
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  1. Feathers

    Grizzled Veteran

    Joined: Oct 1999


    Usually MacNN?

    "The company hasn't said who assembles the A4, though Samsung has usually manufactured the processor."

    Uh... MacNN, this is a new processor so nobody can be credited with "usually" making it. Duh!

  1. bfalchuk

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jul 2003


    Amelia Bedelia

    Feathers, that was a very literal interpretation. They obviously mean that Samsung has typically manufactured the processors in other Apple mobile devices.

    Comment buried. Show
  1. mullum

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Oct 2007


    comment title

    i wonder if it's called A4 because it works on a 4:3 device the size of an A4 sheet of paper.
    Maybe they should have called the iPad the iFoolscap :P

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001


    Re: Usually

    The A4 is a 'new' chip, but its based on the chip designs they purchased from PA Semi. The previous chips developed by PA Semi were usually made by Samsung. Thus the use of the term.

    It is only confusing if you stick it into your head and think Apple magically created this chip out of thin air and it really is 'brand new'. It isn't.

    Of course, being that they own the chip designs now, they can 'charge' themselves whatever they like for the chip, which I'm sure helps keep the costs down on the device.

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001



    Being it is a custom chip, Apple also is able to control more on the hardware side, as it will be harder to hack the device or use the chip in other ways, if there's no documentation on its specifications.

  1. Mr. Strat

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Jan 2002


    At least..

    At least it's not one of those pitiful Atoms.

  1. JulesLt

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jul 2005



    Testudo - I'd presume that given the binary compatibility with the iPhone, we can presume that it supports all the existing ARM instruction set and GPU extensions, and in the same way.

    It would also be pretty hard to disguise any extra features at the SDK level - the compiler toolchain translates C to assembly, then assembly to binary - any new instructions will be flagged up, and reverse engineered.

    My guess is that there is no 'special sauce' other than the implementation (combining all the required components - CPU/GPU/RAM and possibly WiFi - all into a single package). Pretty much the same techniques that lead consoles to shrink by 100% and get cheaper and cooler in their second generation.

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