A look inside the A6 chip powering the iPhone 5

Apple’s indigenously designed A6 SoC apparently boasts “a very unique processor design,” along with dual custom CPU cores and three graphics processor cores, most likely a PowerVR SGX 543MP3 running at 266MHz.

Indeed, a detailed teardown by TechInsights showed three “easily identifiable” GPUs cores, although the firm noted that Apple may have employed “a ‘big-little’ approach and gone with either a flexible 4th core or a smaller one.”

As AppleInsider’s Daniel Eran Dilger points out, the chip appears to be equipped with dual general purpose ARM cores, although it is known that Apple didn’t use either of ARM’s stock Cortex-A8 or Cortex-A15 designs. Rather, Cupertino developed its own custom variant optimized for its own uses. 

“Some licensees only have rights to build ARM’s existing designs, but Apple acquired the rights to develop custom versions of ARM’s CPU core technologies in obtaining ‘a long-term architecture license to ARM’s current and future technology for use in mobile computing,'” explained Dilger.

”Along with ARM’s CPU cores, Apple also secretly inked a ‘multi-use licensing agreement’ with Imagination Technologies in 2007, giving it access to the firm’s ‘next generation graphics and video IP cores.'”

Unsurprisingly, the chip was fabbed by Samsung, with the die measuring 95.04 sq mm in area – which is significantly smaller than the 165 sq mm A5X used in the new iPad.

Additional iPhone 5 specs revealed in the thorough teardown include 32GB of NAND storage flash memory from SanDisk and 1GB of system “processor on package” memory (integrated onto the A6) from Elpida.

”While Apple commonly sources components like RAM from multiple companies, the fact that Apple isn’t even using Samsung memory on the Samsung built A6 hints at efforts Apple is making to diversify its business away from Samsung,” added Dilger.

Meanwhile, Raymond Wong of BGR notes that the iPhone 5 may very well  herald the arrival of Xbox 360 and PS3 quality games on Cupertino’s wildly popular mobile iOS platform.

“During Apple’s iPhone 5 announcement, it showed off Real Racing 3 with features like real-time reflections on cars and textures and physics that just aren’t possible on previous iPhones,” said Wong.

“Now, that doesn’t mean we’ll be getting games that rival Halo or Skyrim in controls, but at the very least, high-end games should look even more incredible. And with AirPlay mirroring the iPhone 5 to an HDTV, games will look even more fantastic.”