Apple spent US$500m designing custom A6 chip

Karen Haslam
21 September, 2012
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Apple has invested at least US$500 million in designing its own ARM CPUs for the A6 chip that appears in the iPhone 5.

“That half billion dollars could be money well spent,” writes Lynley Group head Lynley Gwennap, revealing that Samsung won’t be able to match the power of the new chip for three months.

Gwennap explains that Apple spent US$400 million on the acquisitions of PA Semi and Intrinsity chip and “probably another $100 million” on four years of chip development, bringing its total investment to $500 million.

Reports claim that Apple designed its own CPU for the iPhone 6, rather than licensing a Cortex-A9 or next-generation Cortex-A15 from ARM. Apple’s move towards its own processor design was made possible by its acquisitions of chip designers PA Semi and Intrinsity.

The A6 has CPU is based the ARMv7s architecture and is thought to have a dual-core design, running at 1.2GHz. The custom CPU is similar the to Cortex-A15 and the Krait CPU that appears in Qualcomm’s chips, according to Gwennap.

“It appears that the end result will be that Apple ships a Cortex-A15-class CPU about three months before arch-enemy Samsung does,” writes Gwennap.

As we reported, the iPhone 5 achieved a score of 1,601 on Geekbench - more than twice as much as the iPhone 4S’ score of 636 and the New iPad (775). It also scores higher than various Android devices. The Samsung Galaxy S3 gets a score of 1,588, HTC One X scores 1,085, and the Google Nexus 7 scores 1,591.

Gwennap notes that Apple couldn’t have picked a better time to ship a superior CPU than the competition. “These three months happen to come during the big holiday buying season, during which the iPhone 5 could generate $25 billion in revenue. So that half billion dollars could be money well spent,” he writes.

Gwennap expects Apple to use the A6 until 2013 and then launch a new CPU design based on the 64-bit ARMv8 in 2014.

While the news that Apple is designing the A6 does mean that the company is less reliant on archenemy Samsung, it should be noted that Samsung is still building the A6 using its 32-nanometer manufacturing process.

Samsung also stands to lose out on the 30 percent margin it would make on the processors it sells to Apple, notes VentureBeat.

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