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Apple: The beginning of everything was not the A4 chip as many think

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Aakash Molpariya
Aakash started in Nov 2018 as a writer at Revyuh.com. Since joining, as writer, he is mainly responsible for Software, Science, programming, system administration and the Technology ecosystem, but due to his versatility he is used for everything possible. He writes about topics ranging from AI to hardware to games, stands in front of and behind the camera, creates creative product images and much more. He is a trained IT systems engineer and has studied computer science. By the way, he is enthusiastic about his own small projects in game development, hardware-handicraft, digital art, gaming and music. Email: aakash (at) revyuh (dot) com

A large part of the innovations presented by the new iPhone are in its CPU and GPU, invisible to the user but the result of a great engineering effort. Apple chips are increasingly numerous and present in their devices, and only the central CPU of the Mac is the last redoubt where Intel processors are still needed.

And precisely because of the large number of Apple processors that have been appearing, it is good to review all the models to be clear about their past, their present and their future. Not focusing on their specifications, but on their capabilities.

The ASTWHU family

The original iPhone already had an own Apple chip, only that in the company they did not decide to promote it with a short name and easy to memorize. It was not part of the company’s marketing efforts.

We talk about the APL0098, APL0278, APL0298 and APL2298 present in the iPhone EDGE, iPod touch of second generation, iPhone 3GS and iPod touch of third generation successively. They were Apple’s first successful experiments, in which it proved that its designs were capable of having a good performance and giving room for improvement.

Of course, we cannot just talk about the CPUS / GPUs of the iPhone: Apple has a whole family of chips classified by the functions they do. We go with a quick summary to see them.

  • The A series are the main chips of the iPhone and iPad, and combine the CPU and GPU of the devices. It is rumored that sooner rather than later they will also jump to the Mac.
  • The S series are the heart of the Apple Watch and include the memory and storage of the device. It is the miniaturization of a motherboard at the slightest expression so that it fits into something that is placed around your wrist.
  • The T series has several functions: it controls the Touch ID sensor and the Touch Bar screen of those Macs that have those components, and in its latest generation (T2) it also takes care of the macOS boot security and the management of ‘Hey, Siri ‘.
  • The W series are chips that specialize in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and are present in the first AirPods and Beats headphones. They are also part of the most modern Apple Watch, providing efficiency and higher speeds in their connection interfaces.
  • The H series is an improvement of the W series, and is present in the second generation AirPods.
  • Finally we have the U series, which is added as a complement to the most recent iPhone and is responsible for processing all the data that arrives from the motion sensors to be more aware of where it is spatially. He is responsible for the function to share content on AirDrop by physically pointing towards the other person’s device that will appear with iOS / iPadOS 13.1.

The evolution of Series A

  • The history of Apple’s series A chips begins with the A4, which came with the original iPad and the iPhone 4 in 2010. Its frequency was 1 GHz and was based on the ARM Cortex A8 architecture, and in its time its value was valued energy efficiency and the ability of its graphic core to play videos in h.264 at 720p and 30 fps.
  • The A5 was the first improvement, based on the ARM Cortex-A9 architecture and presented with the iPhone 4S and iPad 2. It would later be upgraded to a 32-nanometer version and would be equipped on third-generation Apple TVs, the iPod touch Fifth generation and iPad mini.
  • The A5X represented the first parallel improvement over the previous generation, designed to have a graphic performance superior to that of its brother A5 and focused on the most powerful iPad. In this case it was the core of the third generation iPad. He surprised the competition so much that even nVidia asked for proof of what it promised.
  • The A6 appeared along with the iPhone 5, and later also persisted with the iPhone 5C. They were smaller and almost twice as powerful, giving one of the biggest leaps in performance we’ve seen in a generational leap of the iPhone. His older brother, the Apple A6X , boosted the fourth-generation iPad with improved graphics performance.
  • The A7 represented an even greater leap, because it was the first to work in 64-bit architecture. It came with the iPhone 5s, and although it did not bring an A7X this chip has already caused the beginning of the big question: will we get to see such a chip on the Mac?
  • The A8 was the chip that equipped the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, in addition to the fourth generation iPad mini. This chip is still officially sold: it is the one that uses the HomePod as a CPU. The A8X version arrived with the iPad Air 2, reaching 250% more graphic performance than the A7. It was a time when the improvements of these chips were exponential.
  • We arrived at the A9 chip, present in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Manufactured to 14 nanometers, they were close to doubling the performance of its predecessor. The A9X was the first to be equipped in an iPad Pro, thus being reserved for that more powerful range. If you have an iPhone SE, know that you use this generation of chips.
  • The A10 Fusion chip is still sold today with the seventh-generation iPod touch and the 10’2-inch iPad, although they first appeared on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The A10X Fusion was equipped in the second-generation iPad Pro, which introduced the 10.5-inch model and the 120Hz screen refreshment.
  • The A11 Bionic is present in the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X. The first two models are still sold, so we have already entered the chips that are part of our day to day. No less than six cores we already have in that SoC, two for high-performance tasks and four for daily tasks that save the battery of the devices more.
  • The A12 Bionic was equipped last year on the iPhone XR and XS, while its older brother A12X Bionic was equipped on the iPad Pro with 11 and 13-inch Face ID. We also have it in the current 10.5-inch iPad Air and the iPad mini and its six cores consume 50% less energy than those of the A11 Bionic.
  • And finally we have the A13 Bionic, recently presented with the new iPhone 11 and 11 Pro. Its performance increases slightly compared to the Bionic A12, although it is not a great revolution compared to its predecessors. It is expected that a new iPad Pro will soon arrive that includes what we assume will be called an A13X Bionic chip, but for now they are only rumors and not all sources are sure of it.

What does the future hold? Only those who work in the most secret laboratories of Apple Park know this, but logically it will imply an even greater improvement of the A series in order to cover all the needs of future Apple mobile devices. We talk about folding screen terminals, virtual reality accessories that work at large resolutions … and of course the possibility that we will probably see the first ARM-based Macs that leave Intel processors.

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