Report: A6 contains custom core; new CPU in 2014

A report from VentureBeat offers more insight into the development of Apple’s A6 chip, refencing a post by chip analyst Linley Gwennap, who adds to claims that Apple has created a custom CPU. Gwennap’s notes that Apple has spent a total of $500 million on chip company acquisitions and chip development, investments that are beginning to bear tangible fruit with A6. By creating its own chips rather than relying on other companies’ designs, Apple will be able to narrowly target its processors to the horsepower and energy needs of its devices, as well as reducing costs — and/or raising its profits.

Following Apple’s acquisition of PA Semi, the company began work on separate projects, says Gwennap: the refinement of an ARM Cortex design into what became the Apple A4 chip, and the creation of an all-new CPU, leading Apple to inquire Intrinsity in 2010, and subsequently complete the A6 last year. Gwennap claims that the A6 is similar in complexity and performance to the ARM Cortex-A15 and the Krait CPU that appears in Qualcomm’s newest chips, noting that the A6 is larger than would have been the case if Apple’s third-generation iPad A5X processor was shrunk from a 45-nanometer manufacturing process to a 32-nanometer manufacturing process; had Apple done nothing more than shrink the A5X, the chip would have been 82 square millimeters. According to Gwennap, the 96 square millimeter size is likely attributable to a more powerful custom CPU core, as well as a better image processor for the camera. He expects Apple to use the A6 through 2013 and then launch a new CPU design in 2014, possibly based on the 64-bit ARMv8 instruction set.

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