IFTLE 116: A6 applications processor for iPhone 5 from Samsung, but...

By Garrou

Many of you may be wondering why IFTLE has recently been paying so much attention to the Apple A6 processor. Well, TechInsights reports that in the last 5 years Apple has generated over $150 billion in revenue from the iPhone family of handsets and accessories, and over 100 million units of the iPhone have been purchased by consumers [link].

We have mentioned before that the A6 is the odds-on favorite to be a major driver for bringing 3DIC (or at least 2.5DIC into high volume manufacturing). A few weeks ago we reported that TSMC felt confident about securing Apple's foundry business for the A6 and A7 processors based on its 28nm and 22nm processes [see IFTLE 112, "TSMC staffing up for 2.5/3D expansion"]

Last week we informed you that the Taiwan Economic News had reported that pilot production of Apple processors was expected to start in the first half of 2013 with volume production following in the second half." [link]

Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, there have been five generations of iPhone models, each one improving on the technology used for the preceding model.

Comparison of Apple application processors [Chipworks]

Apple has partnered with Samsung for every generation of their application processors but recent Apple-Samsung lawsuits over patents related to competing handsets has lent credence to the rumors that Apple was going to switch production to TSMC.

What we now find is that this first generation of the A6 is still manufactured by Samsung as confirmed by both TechInsights [link] ("Our initial SEM cross-sections of the A6 processor show metal and dielectric layering that is almost identical to that used in the previous A5 processor ... Early analysis of the die markings of the A6 reveal markings that are similar to the Samsung markings found in the A4 and A5 processors") and Chipworks [link] ("What we can say is that the foundry for the chip we have analyzed is confirmed to be Samsung and that [...] this chip has a custom designed ARM core [...] and has a triple core graphics processor unit").

Thus, multiple trusted sources agree that the A6 looks like it is being manufactured by Samsung 32nm technology.

The A6 is also the first Apple processor to use its own ARMv7 based processor design. The CPU cores aren't based on the A9 or A15 design from ARM IP, but instead are something of Apple's own design [link].

Apple A6 processor (Techinsights)


This information makes complete sense vs. the recent announcements indicating that TSMC was scaling up in 2013 (obviously not ready for last week's production release). IFTLE concludes that it is likely that the 2nd-gen A6 will be done in 28nm technology by TSMC similar to the 45nm and 32nm versions of the A5 (as shown in the table above), and this is the point of entry for the TSMC 2.5D technology. The timing for this appears to be 2013. What Apple product will be the point of entry? IFTLE will stay on top of this evolving technology story.

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