Few differences found between Apple’s A4 processor and the Samsung ARM A8 used in the Samsung Galaxy S
Apple turned heads early this year when it unveiled the 1GHz A4 Processor, an Apple-branded processor that is now used in the Apple iPad and Apple iPhone 4. The A4 relies on an ARM Coretex-A8 core and a PowerVR SGX 535 graphics processor. Prior to the A4, Apple powered the iPhone and iPod Touch with processors developed and manufactured by Samsung.
But last year, Samsung announced their own 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor called the S5PC110A01 aka Hummingbird. Recently, the S5PC110A01 has appeared in some of Samsung’s flagship devices, including the Samsung Wave, Samsung Galaxy S Android smartphone, and the Samsung Captivate, which is based on the Galaxy S platform.
So what’s the difference between these two processors? According to TechInsights, not much.
Both processors feature a 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 with a 45nm core, and the aforementioned PowerVR SGX 3D engine from Imagination Technologies. The Samsung processor was developed in conjunction with Intrinsity, a fabless semiconductor company that was later acquired by Apple. Furthermore, the cache used in both processors is manufactured by Samsung.
TechInsights concludes that the ARM core used in the Samsung S5PC110A01 and Apple A4 are identical. From a hardware standpoint, there is very little difference between the A4 and the S5PC110A01.
From a software standpoint, however, the difference between the A4 and S5PC110A01 is unclear. It’s likely that Apple optimized the A4 to decrease power consumption in the iPad and iPhone 4. But this optimization isn’t necessarily unique to Apple – in fact, Intrinsity likely played a large role in optimizing both A4 and S5PC110A01 processors.
So, there may be little difference, if any, between the A4 and S5PC110A01 processors in Apple and Samsung devices, respectively. Apple’s acquisition of Intrinsity however, does suggest that the company is aggressively pursuing custom designs down the road that will help to differentiate future Apple processors from other ARM designs.
iFixit has been all over the Apple iPad release, and today the company released an interesting analysis of the Apple A4 chip that powers the iPad. As you probably know, prior to the iPad, Apple has used chips from suppliers such as Samsung for the various versions of the iPhone. However, with the introduction of the iPad, Apple decided to design their own chip and to this end Apple acquired fabless semiconductor company PA Semi.
Interestingly, iFixit did not find anything particularly magical in the A4. In fact, the chip uses the same single core ARM Coretex A8 that is used in the iPhone. iFixit also suspects that the A4 relies on the PowerVR SGX 535 GPU – the same GPU used by the iPhone 3G S.
iFixit does note that the A4 “sips power,” a key benefit that gives the iPad 10+ hours of battery life. Additionally, while the SDRAM on the A4 is manufactured by Samsung, the A4’s package-on-package design allows Apple to use SDRAM from any memory vendor. Other than the SDRAM, there are no markings from Samsung on the A4.
iFixit concludes, “There’s nothing revolutionary here.” In fact, iFixit suspects that Apple’s primary focus with the A4 was to cut power consumption and cost. While these goals may not be sexy, they do address many of the practical considerations, battery life and cost, that tablets have faced to date.