When the new iPhone 5 is officially released on Friday, it will be powered by Apple’s custom-designed A6 chip, a 1.2GHz, dual-core chip that is the first Cortex-A15 class CPU to market.
How did Apple get to this point? Just four years ago, they made their first step into custom chip design: now they are releasing cutting edge chips that are months ahead of the competition.
Over the weekend, Linley Gwennap, who heads the Linley Group chip consultacy, posted up a brief history of Apple’s chip development. It’s not just illuminating because of how we got here — from Apple buying up P.A. Semi in 2008 to signing secret deals with ARM — but in that it predicts when and what the next-gen A7 chip will look like.
Stressing that the A6 is Apple’s first “from scratch” CPU design, Gwennap says:
Now that it has completed its first CPU design, Apple is not likely to stop there. To keep pace with competitors using ARM’s own cores, the company will have to crank out a new CPU design every couple of years. We believe Apple is already working on a next-generation CPU, which will likely implement the 64-bit ARMv8 instruction set. This new CPU probably won’t debut until 2014, so for its 2013 products, Apple will have to rely on the same CPU design, perhaps in a quad-core configuration and with a higher-performance GPU.
What Gwennap predicts, then, is that next year, we will see an A6X chip which will mostly be the same as the A6, but with a couple more cores and new graphics. Then we’ll be hit with the A7 in 2014 in time for the iPhone 6, which will be true 64-bit. Otherwise, Apple’s chip roadmap will be fairly predictable: even Apple can’t thwart the laws of physics, it looks like.