Deconstructing the iPad's A4 Chip: It's Still a Giant iPhoneS

Tear down the iPad, and you see that the internals are quite similar to the iPhone's, albeit nested behind a giant battery.Tear down Apple's new A4 processor, though, and you see just how deep the similarities run.

iFixit partnered with semiconductor reverse engineering firm Chipworks to crack into Apple's semi-mysterious A4 chip, which is the proprietary brain the powers the iPad—and presumably the product of Apple's acquisition of processor company PA Semi. Here's what they found: A single core ARM Cortex A8 processor, and what looks and performs like a PowerVR SGX 535 GPU. (Though the GPU couldn't be IDed for sure.)

Here's the thing: The iPhone uses an ARM Cortex A8 processor, just at a lower clockspeed. The PowerVR SGX 535 GPU is what's in the iPhone 3GS. In terms of processor architecture and graphics capabilities, the iPad is, again, just a big iPhone—not to mention the fact that it has the same paltry 256MB of RAM.

In other words, the A4 was built with price and power consumption in mind, not cutting edge performance. iFixit even goes so far as to say, "there's nothing revolutionary here," which, well, ha!

Of course, this won't change anyone's perceptions of how the iPad performs (it's fast, and graphics rendering is impressive), nor should it. But it does say a lot about Apple's path for the future: This is yet another declaration by Apple that raw hardware specs in portable devices—the kind of stuff we geek out about on a regular basis, but just us—aren't what matter, to Apple or their customers. It's all about the experience. Oblivious, direct experience.

More pictures at iFixit, with continuing analysis at Chipworks.