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

Illustration for article titled Deconstructing the iPads A4 Chip: Its Still a Giant iPhone

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.

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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.

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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.

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DISCUSSION

geekymitch
geekymitch

Its also about what they put on the front end. People kvetched about the ipad when they found out it was going to run iphoneesque OS instead of OSX - but the truth is, if you want a device at this price point, it's not going to run a real full OS well.

HP's slate, for just a few dollars more has vastly superior stats...but it has to because it's looking to run a full version of Win 7 - not only a full version, but a full version with their UI on top of it. I look forward to seeing how well that will work, even with the buffed stats.

At the end of the day, Apple was able to put out a device that performs admirably because they didn't try to make their affordable hardware do anything crazy. Yes, it has an iphone's internals. It makes sense, because it's also running an iphone's OS...and you know what? Say what you will about lack of ram...the thing performs incredibly well. It's responsiveness is snappy, and it's screen is beautiful.

I will still reserve full judgement for when I have a few gigs of apps, music, and movies packed onto the thing. If it still performs the way the "virgin" device does, I think apple has a winner (which is not to say that the slate or courier won't eventually be BIGGER winners...but with a full OS I think it's going to be FAR more difficult for them to impress at a reasonable price)