Apple A6 Processor Is First Custom-Designed CPU Core, Notes Anand Lal Shimpi

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For many wondering how the "A6" processor, announced during the iPhone 5 introduction Sept.12, powered the coveted device, some answers seem to be trickling in, finally.

Apparently, Apple's (AAPL) new A6 processor is the company's first attempt to design a custom ARMv7 core, AppleInsider reported Sept.15.

The A6, identified to possess twice the CPU power and twice the GPU power of the previous generation Apple A5 processor (that powered iPhone 4S) was highly speculated to be powered by Cortex A15 processor design. But the A15 was the licensable processor design from ARM that assured faster performance than Cortex A9 that was employed in A5 processor. 

However, analysis from expert Anand Lal Shimpi of Anand Tech states that A6 is indeed the first Apple System-on-a-Chip (SoC) to employs its own ARMv7 processor design.

"The A6 is the first Apple SoC to use its own ARMv7 based processor design. The CPU core(s) aren't based on a vanilla A9 or A15 design from ARM IP, but instead are something of Apple's own creation."

MacRumors pointed out in its report how Apple is one of the few ARM architecture licensees that is vested with powers to create its own custom ARM processor designs and not be totally reliant on ARM for processor design.

Designing the processor helps Apple tune the chips towards specific company-oriented goals of improved power and performance, while the licensable Cortex A15 was focused on server configurations.

Supporting the claim that Cortex A15 design was reportedly targeted at server configurations, Anand Lal Shimpi writes: "Rumor has it that the original design goal for ARM's Cortex A15 was servers, and it's only through big.LITTLE (or other clever techniques) that the A15 would be suitable for smartphones. Given Apple's intense focus on power consumption, skipping the A15 would make sense but performance still had to improve."

Also, developer codes shipped last support the new architecture, identified ARMv7, VentureBeat reported.

By customizing the processor design, Apple created chip that is aimed to minimize wastage as it performs only the functions that Apple wants it to do. Though billed as an expensive effort as Apple engineers have to test functions on their own Apple has assured that it will have longer battery life, according to VentureBeat.

Apparently, the custom processor design appears to benefit from Apple's previous acquisitions of design chip companies, viz., P.A. Semi and Intrinsity.

Clearly highlighting the benefits of custom design approach, MacRumors notes how the ability to tune CPU designs specifically for products serves as a competitive advantage against other companies that employ licensable designs provided by ARM.

Though technology enthusiasts and industry watchers have to wait until Sept.21, to understand how many cores constitute the A6 processor, it is confirmed that it comes with a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) with Power VR SGX 543MP3 and two 32-bit LPDDR2 memory interface.

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