The 3rd generation Apple TV ships with what Apple tells us is a single-core A5 SoC. After delayering the chip to the transistor gate layer in the new Apple TV, Chipworks just confirmed that the SoC is actually a 32nm dual-core part - presumably with one core disabled.

The iPhone 4S' A5 and the A5X used in the new iPad are both built on Samsung's 45nm LP process. This new A5 in the Apple TV is built on Samsung's 32nm High-K + Metal Gate (gate first) process. When transitioning to a new process node, it's always advisable to have a "pipe-cleaner" part. A small, not overly complex design that you can use to test the process and use to discover any bugs. It also helps if this is a lower volume part as there's always a risk of the new manufacturing process being unable to deliver high enough yields. Apple testing Samsung's 32nm process in the new Apple TV makes a lot of sense. There are far fewer Apple TVs sold than iPhones or iPads, so any troubles on the manufacturing side shouldn't really matter. Furthermore, Apple could also ship die-harvested (1 core disabled) 45nm A5s into Apple TVs if things get really bad.

Either way, it's clear that Apple is testing Samsung's 32nm process and this is likely the node we'll see debut in the next iPhone. As our own Brian Klug pointed out, this is the same part that's used in the new $399 version of the iPad 2 (iPad 2,4). Assuming Samsung's 32nm HK+MG process isn't horribly leaky at this point, we should actually see somewhat better battery life out of this new iPad 2 vs the older 45nm version.

CPU Specification Comparison
CPU Manufacturing Process Cores Transistor Count Die Size
Apple A5X 45nm 2 ? 163mm2
Apple A5 45nm 2 ? 122mm2
Apple A5 (3rd gen Apple TV) 32nm 2 ? 69.6mm2
Intel Sandy Bridge 4C 32nm 4 995M 216mm2
Intel Sandy Bridge 2C (GT1) 32nm 2 504M 131mm2
Intel Sandy Bridge 2C (GT2) 32nm 2 624M 149mm2
NVIDIA Tegra 3 40nm 4+1 ? ~80mm2
NVIDIA Tegra 2 40nm 2 ? 49mm2


Source: Chipworks

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  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - link

    I had been expecting some kind of pipe cleaner for Samsung's 32nm process. Though I have to admit a 32nm A5 specifically for the Apple TV wasn't what I had in mind.
  • Brian Klug - Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - link

    Apple TV 3, and iPad 2,4 (lower cost model), so it isn't as much of a one-off as it seems superficially I guess.

  • tipoo - Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - link

    Any chance AT can get their hands on one? I wonder how much 32nm will change the iPads batter life, and if the 2012 iPad will also be moved to 32nm silently.
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - link

    I would guess that the screen dominates the battery life for all iPads, so I wouldn't expect a huge improvement in battery life.
  • dagamer34 - Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - link

    Unless I am mistaken, this is Samsung's first shipping 32nm part, no? They haven't shipped any 32nm parts in their own phones yet.
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - link

    Your previous AppleTV 3 review noted that the 32nm A5 uses a 32-bit 512MB LPDDR2 die, so you can probably note in this article that not only was 1 CPU core disabled, but 1 32-bit memory controller was as well.

    I don't suppose there's anyway to check if one of the GPU cores is also disabled? Given it won't be running games or other GPU intensive apps and video decode is done by a separate subunit, presumably 1 SGX543 would be enough for the AppleTV.
  • aliasfox - Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - link

    Single core A5 800mhz - 1ghz (kind of like a turbocharged A4?):
    - AppleTV
    - iPod Touch
    - iPhone 4 (potentially - if harvesting A5s is cheaper than the old A4)

    Dual core A5 1ghz:
    - iPad 2
    - iPad mini
    - iPhone 4S

    Dual core A5 1+ ghz (possible with die shrink, right?):
    - iPhone 5 (backup option in case A6 or A5x not ready for smartphone use)

    I think we'll see all 2012-released iOS devices using this chip by the end of the year - including the iPad. Just a matter of processor speed and cores.

    Would quietly replacing the Cortex A8 based A4 with a single-core A5 break anything?
  • michael2k - Friday, April 13, 2012 - link

    I bet a 32nm iPad4 will have a 1.25GHz CPU!
  • Russd456 - Sunday, April 15, 2012 - link

    hey Anand, i was wondering when there is a jailbreak available for the apple tv, is it possible for developers to some how come up with a way to utilize both cores? I know that android releases there source code while apple is more locked down than fort Knox. Anyway, i was hoping you or any of the other qualified writers (and many overly qualified commenters) could clear the air for me. Ive also noticed that no tech blogs have really come out with articles on what possible future jailbreaks for the new apple tv could do to utilize that dorment core. Thanks again! (btw this the verge, engadget, androidandme, and droid-life = best tech sites :) )
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