Deconstructing The iPad’s A4 Chip: It’s Still A Giant iPhone

Deconstructing The iPad’s A4 Chip: It’s 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.

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 chip is the same one used in the iPhone 3GS. In other words, 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 doesn't change our perceptions of how the iPad performs (it's fast, and graphics rendering is impressive) but it does tint my view of Apple's path for the future: This is the first of what I expect to be many declarations 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 matters to them, or their customers. It's experience. Oblivious, direct experience.

More pictures at iFixit, with continuing analysis at Chipworks.