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Apple A4 processor really stripped-down Cortex A8?

updated 11:10 am EST, Mon March 1, 2010

Chip limited to iPad needs

The custom A4 processor in the iPad is in reality a castrated Cortex A8 ARM design, say several sources. Despite speculation that the chip might be based on the more advanced Cortex A9 platform, the A4 is instead said to use a single, 1GHz A8 core, paired with PowerVR SGX graphics technology. The A9 could have allowed Apple to build its first dual-core handheld.

Distinguishing the A4 is said to be the removal of unnecessary hardware, namely standard input and output architecture. It is believed that the chip may have only have one or two USB connections instead of four, and one or two serial ports rather than three, depending on how the multi-touch input controller is linked in. The A4 may also eliminate any camera-related processing architecture, since the camera itself has been stripped out.

It is meanwhile argued, as has been claimed by other sources, that the PA Semi team may not have had much if any involvement with the A4. Apple only acquired the firm in April 2008, which may not have presented enough time to do a genuinely new ARMv7 core design. PA Semi may however have shared the secrets of its PWRficient technology, which saves power by disabling unneeded sections of a chip.



By Electronista Staff
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  1. Feathers

    Grizzled Veteran

    Joined: Oct 1999

    -16

    Apple knows...

    This piece of news should come as no surprise given Apple's masterful ability to package less as more. Apple knows what's best for you better than you know yourself or until it's sufficiently cheap to implement like the radio in the Mark V Nano.

  1. sgirard

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Aug 2005

    +6

    Castrated?

    I don't think so.

    If two nuts = A8, then A4 should = one nut. Last time I checked, castrated = 0 nuts.

    So I wouldn't call this A4 castrated.

  1. davedawgnyc

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Oct 2005

    +6

    dual core = dead(er) battery

    what good's a dual core if it kills ur ipad battery faster?

  1. davlab

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jul 2006

    +3

    If its really fast -

    like several people commented (who used actual iPads at the release event) then what difference do the details of the processor make? Its all about the total experience not the specs. A couple of articles have come out recently showing the iPhone is faster than the Nexus One at video and other interface elements, even though the iPhone has significantly lower specs.

  1. dimmer

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: Feb 2006

    +3

    And

    Keep in mind Apple designs not one product, but a line of products -- with room to add new "must have" features for public consumption over time. This has been particularly true of the iPod and iPhone families: no reason why iPad would be any different.

  1. iphonerulez

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: Nov 2008

    +4

    These tech-heads and their damn specs...

    The iPad is probably tailored from top to bottom for speed. Tight integration between the processor and OS is very important than just sticking some super-fast processor that isn't matched well with the OS. If Apple can manage to use a less expensive part and have the overall product work just as well, what difference does it really matter? I'm sure the Apple A4 chip is more than powerful enough to run 99% of apps available with the greatest of ease while still saving the battery. Match the processor for the task at hand and fast enough to keep users happy.

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