gpu macintosh technology

Apple A4 processor really stripped-down Cortex A8? | Electronista

The custom A4 processor in the iPad is in reality a castrated Cortex A8 ARM design, say several sources.

via Apple A4 processor really stripped-down Cortex A8? | Electronista.

This is truly interesting, and really shows some attempt to optimize the chips with ‘known’ working designs. Covering the first announcement of the A4 chip by Brightside of News, I tried to argue that customizing a chip by licensing a core design from ARM Holdings Inc. isn’t all that custom. Following this Ashlee Vance wrote in the NYTimes the cost of development for the A4 ‘could be’ upwards of $1Billion. And now just today MacNN/Electronista is saying Apple used the ARM A8. By this I mean the ARM Cortex A8 is a licensed core already being used in the Apple iPhone 3GS. It is a proven, known cpu core that engineers are familiar with at Apple. Given the level of familiarity, it’s a much smaller step to optimize that same CPU core for speed and integration with other functions. Like for instance the GPU or memory controllers can be tightly bound into the final CPU. Add a dose of power management and you got good performance and good battery life. It’s not cutting edge to be sure, but it is more guaranteed to work right out of the gate. That’s a bloodthirsty step in the right direction of market domination. However, the market hasn’t quite yet shown itself to be so large and self sustaining that slate devices are a sure thing in the casual/auxiliary/secondary computing device market. You may have an iPhone and you may have a laptop, bu this device is going to be purchased IN ADDITION not INSTEAD OF those two existing device markets. So anyone who can afford a third device is probably going to be the target market for iPad as opposed to creating a new platform for people that want to substitute an iPad for either the iPhone or laptop.

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AppleInsider | Custom Apple A4 iPad chip estimated to be $1 billion investment

In bypassing a traditional chip maker like Intel and creating its own custom ARM-based processor for the iPad, Apple has likely incurred an investment of about $1 billion, a new report suggests.

via AppleInsider | Custom Apple A4 iPad chip estimated to be $1 billion investment.

After reading the NYTimes article linked to within this article I can only conclude it’s a very generalized statement that it costs $1Billion to create a custom chip. The exact quote from the NYTimes article author Ashlee Vance is: “Even without the direct investment of a factory, it can cost these companies about $1 billion to create a smartphone chip from scratch.”

Given that is one third the full price of building a  chip fabrication plant, why so expensive? What is the breakdown of those costs. Apple did invest money in PA Semiconductor to get some chip building expertise (they primarily designed chips that were fabricated at overseas contract manufacturing plants). Given Qualcomm has created the Snapdragon CPU using similar cpu cores from ARM Holdings Inc., they must have $1Billion to throw around too? Qualcomm was once dominant in the cell phone market licensing its CDMA technology to the likes of Verizon. But it’s financial success is nothing like the old days. So how does Qualcomm come up with $1Billion to develop the Snapdragon CPU for smartphones? Does that seem possible?

Qualcomm and Apple are licensing the biggest building blocks and core intellectual property from ARM, all they need to do is route and place and verify the design. Where does the $1Billion figure come into it? Is it the engineers? Is it the masks for exposing the silicon wafers? I argue now as I did in my first posting about the Apple A4 chip, the chip is an adaptation of intellectual property, a license to a CPU design provided by ARM. It’s not literally created from ‘scratch’ starting with no base design or using completely new proprietary intellectual property from Apple. This is why I am confused. Maybe ‘from scratch’ means different things to different people.

computers macintosh technology

Apple A4 SOC unveiled – It’s an ARM CPU and the GPU! – Bright Side Of News*

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.

via Apple A4 SOC unveiled – It’s an ARM CPU and the GPU! – Bright Side Of News*.

Apple's press release image of the A4 SoC

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.

The heart of the new Apple A4 System on Chip

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.

macintosh science & technology technology

64GBytes is the new normal (game change on the way)

Panasonic SDXC flash memory card
Flash memory chips are getting smaller and denser

I remember reading announcements of the 64GB SDXC card format coming online from Toshiba. And just today Samsung has announced it’s making a single chip 64GB flash memory module with a built-in memory controller. Apple’s iPhone design group has been big fans of the single chip large footprint flash memory from Toshiba. They bought up all of Toshiba’s supply of 32GB modules before they released the iPhone 3GS last Summer. Samsung too was providing the 32GB modules to Apple prior to the launch. Each Summer newer bigger modules are making for insanely great things that the iPhone can do. Between the new flash memory recorders from Panasonic/JVC/Canon and the iPhone what will we do with the doubling of storage every year? Surely there will be a point of diminishing return, where the chips cannot be made any thinner and stacked higher in order to make these huge single chip modules. I think back to the slow evolution and radical incrementalism in the iPod’s history going from 5GB’s of storage to start, then moving to 30GB and video! Remember that? the Video iPod @ 30GBytes was dumbfounding at the time. Eventually it would top out at 120 and now 160GBytes total on the iPod classic. At the rate of change in the flash memory market, the memory modules will double in density again by this time next year, achieving 128GBytes for a single chip modules with embedded memory controller. At that density a single SDHC sized memory card will also be able to hold that amount of storage as well. We are fast approaching the optimal size for any amount of video recording we could ever want to do and still edit when we reach the 128 Gbyte mark. At that size we’ll be able to record 1080p video upwards of 20 hours or more on today’s video cameras. Who wants to edit much less watch 20 hours of 1080p video? But for the iPhone, things are different, more apps means more fun. And at 128GB of storage you never have to delete an app, or an single song from your iTunes or a single picture or video, just keep everything. Similarly for those folks using GPS, you could keep all the maps you ever wanted to use right onboard rather than download them all the time thus providing continuous navigation capabilities like you would get with a dedicated GPS unit. I can only imagine the functionality of the iPhone increasing as a result of the increased storage 64GB Flash memory modules would provide. Things can only get better. And speaking of better, The Register just reported today some future directions.

There could be a die process shrink in the next gen flash memory products. There are also some opportunities to use slightly denser memory cells in the next gen modules. The combination of the two refinements might provide the research and design departments at Toshiba and Panasonic the ability to double the density of the SDXC and Flash memory modules to the point where we could see 128GBytes and 256GBytes in each successive revision of the technology. So don’t be surprised if you see a Flash memory module as standard equipment on every motherboard to hold the base Operating System with the option of a hard drive for backup or some kind of slower secondary storage. I would love to see that as a direction netbook or full-sized laptops might take. (Toshiba) Apr 27, 2009 (Samsung) May 13, 2009 (Samsung) Jan 14, 2010

macintosh technology

Layar is in the iPhone App Store! « Layar

Layar now available on iPhone

As reported in for Thursday October 15 , 2009. Layar was originally developed in the Netherlands, and runs on Android based cell phones. The first cell phone manufacturer to pre-install it was Samsung who installed it on their Android based Galaxy sold in the Netherlands.

It has now been ported over to the iPhone and will now compete head to head with an early entrant into the AR market, Bionic Eye. Layar had garnered some early mindshare on O’Reilly’s technology blog Radar where I first noticed it. Others had whispered about it early on the cutting edge tech blogs. But this was the first concrete example showing what it could do. has been singing the praises of the cell phone Augmented Reality craze but somewhat later than O’Reilly tapped into it in early Summer. O’Reilly now has a correspondent fully engaged in covering things AR related: Christine Perey. And now let the battle begin Bionic Eye vs. Layar! But first consider the API’s which are already beginning to be examined by the folks over at Wired. One big complaint is the difficulty with which one can submit their own Point of Interest database that Layar can call up. Bionic Eye hasn’t really touted user generated POI content as much. It will take a while to see if it’s the consumers or the developers who determines the winner in the battle for Cellphone AR apps. Who knows? Maybe Google will enter the fray real soon now.

Layar is in the iPhone App Store!

We have waited a long time but it is finally there! Layar arrived in the App Store. It’s free and available globally. Below some screenshots of the App.

via Layar is in the iPhone App Store! « Layar.


OS X 10.6 – 64bits? Meh.

There is no doubt 64-bits is nice architectural change but it doesn’t mean you’re receiving all the benefits of the change. If Apple doesn’t quickly upgrade it’s vast stable of killer multimedia applications, it doesn’t really matter how good Snow Leopard is. Even after installing Snow Leopard it is hard for me to notice a significant difference. I would settle for some extra quickness or capability in iLife that wasn’t possible before Snow Leopard.

Add to this the fact you need a full 64-bit clean environment to really guarantee you are in 64bit mode. The boot-up environment known as EFI was n ot 64-bit clean until after 2008. The Intel CPU wasn’t 64-bit clean until after 2007. Two strikes against me as I was an early adopter of the Intel Architecture and am relegated to good ol’ 32-bit compatibility mode. Unless I decide to upgrade of course, which isn’t going to happen because I have a sworn duty to first replace my wife’s old PC after Windows 7 is formally released. Once that purchase is done and out of the way, then I will consider getting a re-furbished post 2008 Mac Pro tower with a fully OpenCL compatible graphics card. There’s just so many considerations, you need to keep writing all of them down so you don’t lose track.

Of course, Apple itself needs to deliver 64-bit versions of its own Logic Studio, Final Cut Studio, and Aperture, too. The company was previously outpaced by its third party developers in the move to PowerPC, and to a lesser extent, in the move to Intel Macs. Apple’s position as both a platform vendor and an application developer should help it to deliver practical, usable tools for its own developers.

via AppleInsider | Inside Mac OS X Snow Leopard: 64-bits.

computers gpu macintosh science & technology technology

Acrossair on the iPhone

It looks like the iPhone OS 3.1 is going to do nothing more the open up the video feed on the camera so that you can overlay data on top of that video. In essence, the Augmented Reality is using your iPhone’s video as a “desktop” picture and placing items on top of that. Acrossair’s iPhone App, Nearest Tube uses the OpenGL libraries to skew and distort that data as you point the camera in different directions, thus providing a little more of a 3D perspective than say something like Layar which I have talked about previously on this blog. Chetan Demani, one of the founders of Acrossair also points out going forward any company making AR type apps will need to utilize existing location information and pre-load all the data they want to display. So the nirvana of just-in-time downloads of location data to overlay on your iPhone video image is not here,… and may not be for a while. What will differentiate the software producers though is the relevancy, and accuracy of their location information. So there will be some room for competition for a quite some time.

He went on to say that it’s pretty simple to do AR applications using the new 3.1 APIs, due out in September. ” It’s a pretty straightforward API. There’s no complexity in there. All it does is it just switches on the video feed at the background. That’s the only API that’s published. All we’re doing is using that video feed at the back. It just displays the video feed as if it’s a live camera feed.

via Augmenting Reality with the iPhone – O’Reilly Broadcast.

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AppleInsider | TomTom for Apple iPhone released in U.S. App Store for $99

Apple Insider reports this morning that the TomTom GPS application has appeared in the U.S. AppStore. And if you decided to get the external antenna you can even use your iPod Touch as a GPS. That is way cool and way more useful than I had previously thought this was going to be. Kudos for TomTom to make the thing more widely available on the iPhone platform.

The product works with the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS, which include an integrated GPS receiver. It will reportedly also be compatible with the first-generation iPhone and the iPod touch once the separate combo hardware kit is made available. TomTom has not yet announced a price for the hardware package.

via AppleInsider | TomTom for Apple iPhone released in U.S. App Store for $99.

computers macintosh media wired culture

AppleInsider | Apple’s tablet

Theres no way the tablet will be as hot as the iPhone
There's no way the tablet will be as hot as the iPhone

Market projections are a black art. How big is the market for an as yet unreleased product? Marketing departments always have to do the  research and focus groups and test marketing to see what the projections are. But even these can be wrong or misleading. Based on this article one Wall Street analyst firm bases their projections on the market for the Apple TV a niche product if there ever was one. In the first year of it’s production the Apple TV sold 1.2million units. Given the appeal of the iPhone and iPod Touch, the projections are the Mac Tablet will sell far better than the 1.2 million units of the Apple TV. And with a list price of ~$600 US then the revenue generated would be approximately 3% of total revenue. This is all pad on paper estimates based on the up take of a somewhat less successful product, so it could be way off the mark. I’m hoping there’s something new, something nobody has guessed at so far that Apple will include in this device that will help really, really differentiate it. It should be unlike other tablets, and unlike its little brother the iPod Touch.

We believe an Apple tablet would be priced 30%-50% below the $999 MacBook, and would offer best in class web, email, and media software,” the report reads. “In other words, we believe Apple’s tablet would compete well in the netbook category even though it would not be a netbook.”

via AppleInsider | Apple’s tablet will be more than a niche product – report.

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iTunes U: The Beginning

It’s interesting to see how the whole iTunes U structure works. I’ve been reading documentation about the ‘web services’ enabled within iTunes U. It completely replicates the GUI functions but through a semi-automated interface. Reminds me a little of how you can change the underlying LDAP directory structure using LDIF commands or LDIF files with all the changes embedded within it. In iTunes U, you do an HTTP PUT securely with a signed token, and the iTunes U Web service sucks that up and executes all the commands embedded within your XML file that you put. Very powerful, but very scary too as these changes are made to your production environment. So there’s no real easy way to test the results of your commands without just taking a big risk, leaping in and seeing what happens. This is like SQL commands where you DROP TABLE, not a fun thing to do. DROP TABLE is a big black whole that makes your data disappear in an unrecoverable way. iTunes U has similar functions where you delete the structure AND the data at the same time. You may restore the structure (by backing up your data tree in XML format), but the data embedded within the tree, well that’s gone. So restoring stuff is going to be impossible if you get the syntax wrong in your XML file. The only real benefit to me now is the ability to get a listing of the whole site structure using the Tree command and then forcing an update to any groups that are of the type RSS Feed. The update will be necessary if anyone adds files to a podcast being hosted on servers within our institution.

I discovered or re-discovered a tool called Woolamaloo which was introduced to me during the Apple iTunes training. University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana created it to allow you to use a GUI to control the Web services from a desktop OS. This is good as I was at a loss to adapt the sample code into anything like a reliable generator of tokens to send to iTunes U web services. I couldn’t figure out what parts of the java example to comment out and recompile. Starting this Monday I’m going to put Woolmaloo through it’s paces. If I can force the RSS feeds to update on demand when somebody has a problem updating their Podcast feeds, I can at least speed things up. But I’m still very leery of deleting or merging any section. I will copy so I can make a course appear in more than one place without using the iTunes multi-click interface. But I will not delete or merge.

And just today I also discovered there are Apple Automator scripts readily available that add a graphical layer on top of all the web services goodness. So now I can integrate a bunch of steps from uploading bunches of files, forcing RSS feeds to update to merging/rename whole sections all from Automator. I’m going to test it and se how good it really works.