Inside Apple’s SoCs, And Predicting The iPhone 5S’s A7 Chip

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Yes, we all know that Apple’s iOS devices have A4, or A5, or A6 processors in them… but what are they? These are all types of systems-on-a-chip, or SoC for short, and they are more than just processors: they are the equivalent of someone putting almost an entire PC desktop on a single chip the size of an infant’s fingernail.

Over at Ars Technica, Andrew Cunningham has posted an absolutely indispensible primer on SoCs and what makes Apple’s different than Qualcomm’s or Samsung’s.

I really recommend reading the entire thing if you want to understand the fundamentals of smartphone and tablet processors, but even if you’re not interested in that, Cunningham has interesting predictions about what Apple’s A7 processor will look like:

On the CPU side, we’d bet that Apple will focus on squeezing more performance out of Swift, whether by improving the architecture’s efficiency or increasing the clock speed. A quad-core version is theoretically possible, but to date Apple has focused on fewer fast CPU cores rather than more, slower ones, most likely out of concern about power consumption and the total die size of the SoC (the larger the chip, the more it costs to produce, and Apple loves its profit margins). As for the GPU, Imagination’s next-generation PowerVR SGX 6 series GPUs are right around the corner. Since Apple has used Imagination exclusively in its custom chips up until now, it’s not likely to rock this boat.

In other words, the A7 could still be a dual-core processor, but that’s not an issue because the GPU will be smoking fast and truly next-gen, and Apple has such a firm control over all of the iOS ecosystem that it can keep everything tweaked so that everything feels nice and speedy and takes advantage of the cutting-edge GPU whenever possible. Graphics, not processing speed, are still Apple’s priorities in iOS development.

There’s much more of interest in Cunningham’s article. Make sure to read it if you get a chance.

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About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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