According to an analyst atÂ The Linley Group, a chip consultancy firm, Apple’s A6 system-on-chip won’t make it to the iPad 3 until July 2012. The A6 processor, successor to the 1 GHz dual-core A5 chip presently powersÂ iPad 2, is expected to power future version of the iPad and iPhone.
We had earlier heard reports of the A6 chips being produced on a trial basis byÂ Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).
But according to the analyst, the rumored A6 chipÂ would reach production stage in the second quarter of 2012 if all goes well. Since the release of the iPad, Apple has maintained a yearly upgrade cycle for these processors and if the analysts’ claims are true, this cycle could hit a roadblock. He says:
“A final version of the chip will enter production in 2Q12 ‘at the earliest’… We believe this timing makes sense.Â This pace would make the A6 one of the first 28 [nanometer] mobile processors (along with Qualcomm’s MSM8960) to enter production. This schedule, however, breaks Apple’s annual processor-upgrade cycle and will delay any products using the A6 until at least June 2012.”
The iPads are the first ones to feature Apple’s improved processors, and if Apple wants to maintain this trend it could delay the iPad 3 launch. Considering a scenario where Apple drifts away from this trend and chooses toÂ stickÂ to its Q1 launch of the iPad, the analyst says:
“[Apple] will have to use the same A5 processor as the current iPad 2, relying on the rumored new high-resolution ‘Retina’ disÂplay to drive the upgrade cycle.”
The analysts’ research note suggests that the A6 chip would be based on ARM’s Cortex-A9 quad core design. The chip would compete head to head with a similar quad-core offering from NVIDIA, which is expected to power Windows 8 and Android devices. The A6 chip would not only house double the cores found on the A5 processor, it would also use TSMC’s 3D technologyÂ akin to Intel’s Tri-Gate technology.
The research note agrees to the fact that Apple has indeed switched to TMSC from Samsung as a manufacturer for their processors, perhaps aÂ consequenceÂ of the strained relations Apple presently shares with Samsung. As per the analyst, there are risks associated with switching manufacturers, citing an example where TSMC had problems dealing with newÂ technologyÂ resulting in defects like Nvidia’s ‘bump-crack’ issue.
All in all the A6 chip seems to be a huge upgrade over the current generation A5 chips, but when Apple chooses to introduce them in its iOS devices can only be speculated. What would you want – a scheduled iPad 3 launch sans the A6 chip or a delayed launch with one?
What’s the News: The foundation of modern electronics, silicon transistors are miniature on/off switches that regulate electric current. This week, Intel demonstrated a new transistor design that’s being hailed by Intel as one of the most radical developments in transistors since the advent of integrated circuits of the 1950s. By adding tiny, vertical fins to normally flat transistors, Intel’s new Tri-Gate transistor allows for faster, smaller, and lower-voltage computer chips. “We’ve been talking about these 3-D circuits for more than 10 years, but no one has had the confidence to move them into manufacturing,” chip-manufacturing specialist Dan Hutcheson told The Wall Street Journal.
How the Heck:
- Engineers added a fin-shaped structure to the part of the transistor that acts as a conducting channel for electrons; with the extra depth, more current flows through the transistor.
- They also designed the gate, or the component that turns the current flow on and off,Â so that it surrounds the fin on all three sides, more effectively stanching current from leaking when it’s off. All told, the new 3D structure should allow gadgets to guzzle half the power than Intel’s current product line. “That is an unprecedented gain,” Intel fellow Mark Bohr told The Wall Street Journal. “We’ve never achieved that kind of performance gain at low voltage.”
- When combined with Intel’s new manufacturing process—changing from 32-nanometer chips to 22-nanometer ones—theÂ company says the new transistors work 37% faster when chips are in low-voltage mode, and 18% faster in high-voltage mode.
- As CRNâ€™s Edward Correia notes, â€œWith the triple-gate transistor, Intel has reinvented the technology that powers every computing device—indeed, all of today’s electronics—and in doing so, has broken the size restrictions currently inherent in today’s microprocessors.â€ He says the really significant thing is how Intel has â€œhas developed a process for mass-producing the circuits in a process that’s 22 billionths of a meter thick, about a third thinner than the 32-nm process it uses for Sandy Bridge microprocessor architecture (a human hair is about 100,000-nm thick).â€
What’s the Context:
- The 3D approach Intel has now developed was first mentioned in a series of research papers in 2002. Its rivals have been exploring similar designs, but Intel is the first company with plans of shifting its entire production to the 3D structure.
- Intel’s new Tri-Gate transistors are expected to add only upwards of 3% cost to the production of each wafer—a small amount given its significant strides in performance.
- The idea of building upward instead of outward is just one of many ideas for better chips that companies have thrown around in recent years.
Not So Fast:
- Globalfoundries, a production service that shares research and development with IBM and Samsung, snubbed the transistor breakthrough, saying that “we don’t see the need” for technologies like 3-D transistors at the current time. Their focus is just to increase performance by shrinking their transistor manufacturing to the 22/20nm scale.
- In the smartphone market, Intel is still getting trumped by its competitors because its chips consume more energy, leading to lower battery life. Itâ€™s too early to tell whether the new 22-nanometer scale Tri-Gate transistor, with its low-voltage abilities, will let Intel gain ground in the mobile market.
The Future Holds:
- Intel plans on completely shifting its manufacturing process to the new transistors in the near future. They’ll start mass-producing the 3D transistors later this year, with high-end desktop computers rolling off the shelves in early 2012.
- Building true 3D chips, with layers of transistors built on top of each other, still hasn’t been achieved. Adding an entire second layer of transistors (and eventually even more to stack them into cubic chips) is the “hotly-pursued goal of the industry.”