Getting back to Apple A4, Steve Jobs incorrectly addressed Apple A4 as a CPU. We’re not sure was this to keep the mainstream press enthused, but A4 is not a CPU. Or we should say, it’s not just a CPU. Nor did PA Semi/Apple had anything to do with the creation of the CPU component.
Interesting info on the Apple A4 System on Chip which is being used by the recently announced Ipad tablet computer. The world of mobile, low power processors is dominated by the designs of ARM Holdings Inc. Similarly ARM is providing the graphics processor intellectual property too. So in the commodity CPU/GPU and System on Chip (SoC) market ARM is the only way to go. You buy the license you layout the chip with all the core components you license and shop that around to a chip foundry. Samsung has a lot of expertise fabricating these chips made to order using the ARM designs. But Apparently another competitor Global Foundries is shrinking its design rules (meaning lower power and higher clock speeds) and may become the foundry of choice. Unfortunately outfits like iFixit can only figure out what chips and components go into an electronics device. They cannot reverse engineer the components going into the A4, and certainly anyone else would probably be sued by Apple if they did spill the beans on the A4’s exact layout and components. But because everyone is working from the same set of Lego Blocks for the CPUs and GPUs and forming them into full Systems on a Chip, some similarities are going to occur.
One thing pointed out in this article is the broad adoption of the same clockspeed for all these ARM derived SoCs. 1Ghz is the clock speed across the board despite differences in manufacturers and devices. The reason being everyone is using the same ARM cpu cores and they are designed to run optimally at the 1Ghz clock rate. So the more things change (meaning faster and faster time to market for more earth shaking designs) the more they stay the same (people adopt commodity CPU designs and become more similar in performance). It will take a big investment for Apple and PA Semiconductor to really TRULY differentiate themselves with a unique and different and proprietary CPU of any type. They just don’t have the time, though they may have the money. So when Jobs tells you something is exclusive to Apple, that may be true for industrial design. But for CPU/GPU/SoC, … Don’t Believe the Hype surround the Apple A4.
Also check out AppleInsider’s coverage of this same topic.
NYTimes weighs in on the Apple A4 chip and what it means for the iPad maintaining its competitive advantage. NYTimes gives Samsung more credit than Apple because they manufacture the chip. What they will not speculate on or guess at is ARM Holdings Inc. sale of licenses to it’s Cortex A-9 to Apple. They do hint that the nVidia Tegra CPU is going to compete directly against Apple’s iPad using the A4. However, as Steve Jobs has pointed out more than once, “Great Products Ship”. And anyone else in the market who has licensed the Cortex A-9 from ARM had better get going. You got 60 days or 90 days depending on your sales/marketing projections to compete directly with the iPad.