The CPU

TI was one of the earliest partners with ARM on the Cortex A15 and silicon just came back from the fab at the beginning of this year. Even if Apple were similarly instrumental in the definition of the Cortex A15 architecture, it would be Q3 at the earliest before it could have working silicon available in volume. With no A15 design ready and presumably no desire to jump into the custom-designed ARM CPU market quite yet, Apple once again turned to the Cortex A9 for the A5X.

Apple confirmed that there are only two Cortex A9 cores on the A5X and it neglected to mention operating frequency. I suspect the lack of talk about CPU clocks indicates that they perhaps haven't changed. We could still be looking at a 1GHz max operating frequency.

Although we've speculated that Apple moved to a 32nm design with the A5X, it is entirely possible that we're still dealing with mature 45nm silicon here. It would explain the relatively conservative GPU clocks, although the additional GPU cores would balloon die size to 150 - 160mm^2 (roughly twice the size of Tegra 3). If A5X is 32nm, assuming a relatively conservative 80% scaling factor Apple would be able to maintain a die size of around 125mm^2, similar to the previous generation A5.

A quad-core CPU design does make some sense on a tablet, but only one that is either running heavily threaded workloads or is subjected to pretty intense multitasking. As we found in our iPhone 4S review, many iOS apps are still not very well threaded and have a difficult time utilizing two cores, much less four. On the multitasking front, Apple has enabled task switching but there's still no way to run two applications side-by-side. The most CPU intensive workloads on iOS still require that the app is active in the foreground for user interaction. Apps can work in the background but it's not all that constant/common, and again, they aren't pegging multiple cores. Apple built a very efficient, low overhead platform with iOS - it had to thanks to the hardware specs of the original iPhone. A result of iOS' low-overhead, very efficient design is expectedly low CPU utilization for most tasks. This is not to say that CPU performance isn't important under iOS, just that it's hard to find apps that regularly require more than a single core and definitely hard to find those that can benefit from more than two cores.

I will say though, Apple could easily add more cores if it wanted to spend the die area without a significant impact on power consumption. Remember that idle cores can be fully power gated, effectively reducing their power consumption while idle to zero. Apple could also assume a fairly conservative CPU governor and only wake up the third and fourth cores when absolutely necessary (similar to what we see happening with Tegra 3 on Android).

What about the Next iPhone?

Apple has traditionally used the iPad SoC in the subsequent iPhone release that followed later in the same year. It would make sense to assume that we'll see a smartphone version of the A5X SoC (at lower clocks) later this year. The A6? That'll probably debut next year with the 4th generation iPad.

Memory Capacity

Apple wouldn't let us run any third party applications on the new iPad so we couldn't confirm the actual memory capacity of the new model. On stage at the event, Epic mentioned that the new iPad has more memory and a higher output resolution than the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. The Xbox 360 has 512MB of memory, and Apple's A5/A5X has a dual-channel LPDDR2 memory controller. Each channel needs to be populated evenly in order to maintain peak bandwidth, which greatly narrows the options for memory capacity on the new iPad. 768MB would imply 512MB on one channel and 256MB on the other, delivering peak performance for apps and data in the first 512MB but lower performance for the upper 256MB. Given the low cost of DRAM these days, I think it's safe to assume that Apple simply went with two 512MB DRAM devices in a PoP configuration on the A5X for a total of 1GB of LPDDR2 memory in the new iPad.

4G LTE Support

Brian did an excellent analysis on the LTE baseband in the new iPad here. Qualcomm's MDM9600, a 40nm design appears to be used by Apple instead of the 28nm MDM9615. In hindsight, speculating the use of a 28nm LTE baseband for the new iPad was likely short sighted. Apple had to be in the mass production phase for the new iPad somewhere in the January/February timeframe. Although 28nm silicon is shipping to customers today, that was likely too aggressive of a schedule to make it work for an early-March launch.

Apple iPad Pricing
  16GB 32GB 64GB
WiFi $499 $599 $699
WiFi + 4G $629 $729 $829

Apple offers carrier specific iPad 4G models on AT&T and Verizon, although both versions can roam on 3G networks around the world. Apparently the iPad 4G isn't SIM locked, so you'll be able to toss in a SIM from other carriers with compatible networks. LTE data plans are available from AT&T and Verizon with no long-term contract:

iPad LTE Plan Pricing (Monthly)
  $14.99 $20 $30 $50
AT&T 250MB - 3GB 5GB
Verizon - 1GB 2GB 5GB

 

The Name

Apple surprised many by referring to the 3rd generation iPad simply as "the new iPad". The naming seems awkward today, but it's clearly a step towards what Apple does across many of its product lines. The MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and iPod all receive the same simple branding treatment; newer models are differentiated by a quietly spoken year or generation marker.

I still remember back several years ago when PC OEMs were intrigued by the idea of selling desktops based on model year and not on specs. Apple has effectively attained the holy grail here.

The GPU A Much Larger Battery
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  • Guspaz - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    You can get 1920x1200 in a 13" notebook monitor. Until recently, the highest resolution you could get on a 27" display was 1920x1200. Clearly this doesn't make any sense; there is a 4.3x increase in surface area there, but no increase in resolution...

    I had a 1080p 24" monitor, and it felt low-res. I've since upgraded to a 2560x1440 27" monitor, and it does seem a bit better. As it should, it's a 25% increase in surface area, but a 78% increase in pixel count.
    Reply
  • ZeDestructor - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    I suspect it stagnated because windows offers extremely poor scaling by default, despite being given all the info via EDID/HWID... Reply
  • Exodite - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Now if some enterprising soul could just cut away all the useless gunk adhered to the back of those displays, and ideally scale them up to 20-24", I'd be almost happy to pay ~499 USD!

    Imagine for a moment a 4x3 resolution desktop screen with large vertical resolution and low cost. *sigh*

    As a software engineer I have yet to see any reason to move past my two 1280x1024 displays from '06.

    I don't need color accuracy, widescreen formats, USB hubs or exotic display connectivity. I just want a display with high vertical resolution, high refresh rate and a good price.
    Reply
  • Guspaz - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    4:3? No thanks, even for coding.

    I'm sitting here on two 1280x1024 monitors, while at home I have a single 2560x1440 monitor. The difference is painful; lines of code don't fit in 1280 pixels, so stuff gets split between two, which isn't easy to work with. My single monitor at home is higher resolution than my two at work, I'd gladly trade these for a single higher res 27" monitor.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    We obviously have very different coding styles then.

    Strictly speaking I don't need more horizontal space than 80 characters, though additional space for menus and toolbars are obviously an advantage.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Wait, what? The iPad has more lines in either direction than 1280, 1440! Reply
  • michael2k - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Why not mount it on a stand, place it 10" away from you (so that it appears equivalent to a 22" screen), and use something like Parallels to run your desktop on it? Reply
  • Exodite - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    I'm sitting pretty much 10" away from two 19" screens as it is, unfortunately it'd have to be a bit bigger than 9.7" to be ideal. :P Reply
  • medi01 - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    -Our beloved customers are ready to give us more of their money for trendy gadget upgrade. We gotta sell them 'The New iPad', what have we got to "revolutionize"?
    -Nothing.
    -Eh, not even some app like Siri that we can remove from app store and shamelessly claim to make yet another breakthrough?
    -Nope.
    -Bah, let's play 'retina" display card then.
    -Well, we only got 264 points per inch display, we claimed "retina display" to be 326 ppi, can we still claim 264ppi is retina?
    -We are Apple dude, we can claim anything! (besides dudes like Anand will find excuses to demonstrate we were right)
    -Right. Anyway, we'd need more powerful hardware too keep up old speeds at new resolution. (dudes like Anand will still make us look better, by using useless to customers off-screen benchmark) so we'd need a bigger battery.
    -So it will be bigger, heavier and take longer to charge?
    -Yep.
    -Oh well, but it will still have "retina display". Should still sell well.
    Reply
  • WaltFrench - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    “Retina” display was a pixel density such that <b>at the likely distance from the eye,</b> the user would have a hard time distinguishing pixels. Works out to about 1 arc-minute (1/60th of a degree) for human eyes.

    I see lots of people using iPads on my commute route, on my frequent flights, in the occasional coffee-shop stop. Nobody tries to hold them the 10" – 12" away from their eyes, as Jobs cited for the iPhone4S.

    In other words, by failing to know a damn thing about vision (or elementary trig), your comment blathers ignorantly.

    PS, a word to the wise: it wouldn't have been very clever even if your point was in the least valid. Don't give up your day job to be a comedy writer. Even if your local Android Klub fans like it.
    Reply

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