Apple’s A4: ARM CPU, GPU

And yet another item on the iPad? Are we serious? Yes, we are, since this one is about something that even geeks who aren’t interested in the iPad itself should find intriguing. Steve Jobs said yesterday that the iPad is powered by an Apple A4 processor, but contrary to what many seem to think – it wasn’t designed in-house at all.

Bright Side of News has unveiled what the Apple A4 really is, and it has been able to do so thanks to a little chat it had with Warren East, CEO of ARM, during the GlobalFoundries event in Las Vegas. Warren East talked about a new member of the ARM family – this new member was Apple, Bright Side of News can now confirm.

So, what, exactly, is the Apple A4? Technically, it isn’t a CPU. It might be semantics (but hey, where would the internet be without semantics?), but the A4 is actually a system-on-chip, a piece of silicon that containts not only the CPU, but also the graphics core, memory controller, and so on.

The Apple A4 consists of an ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore, the same processor that powers the NVIDIA Tegra and Qualcomm Snapdragon. The graphics unit is a ARM Mali 50-Series. The key thing to note here is that this is all mostly ARM IP; Apple and P.A.Semi have little to do with it. Since Apple doesn’t have its own chip factory, this thing is produced by Samsung.

Because of Apple’s apparent disinterest in divulging specifications, we have to rely on pieces of information all over the web. What is pretty clear, though, is that the Apple A4 is pretty much a relatively standard ARM SoC, similar to what’s powering the Zune HD. It doesn’t give the iPad any specific industry advantage, as there are numerous similar chips that deliver the same kind of performance (Tegra, Snapdragon).

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