Flashback: How the Apple M1 evolved from Apple’s iPad chipsets – Reuters

Apple’s first custom chipset, the Apple A4, was released in 2010 with the original iPad and was also featured in the iPhone 4 a few months later. The A4 was manufactured by Samsung and used an improved Cortex-A8 processor core called “Hummingbird”.

Hummingbird was co-developed by Samsung and Intrinsity and was announced in 2009 as “the world’s fastest ARM Cortex-A8 processor”. Multiple customizations had to be made for the core to hit its 1GHz target. Apple acquired Intrinsity just months after unveiling the iPad. And a few years earlier, he had acquired PA Semi.

After these key acquisitions, Apple set to work on in-house chipset designs for use in its wearable products. Today’s story begins in 2012 as we focus on the upgraded X series of chips, which are the predecessors to the revolutionary Apple M1. AX chips are primarily used in iPads, but they also occasionally appear in Apple TVs.

The second generation iPad introduced the Apple A5 to the world in 2011. It still used off-the-shelf components, Cortex-A9 CPU cores from ARM and PowerVR SGX543 GPU cores from Imagination. The third-generation iPad arrived a year later with an improved version of that chip, dubbed the Apple A5X, which got the ball rolling.

The A5X doubled the GPU cores (from MP2 to MP4) and also featured a new four-channel memory controller, which offered data transfer speeds of up to 12.8 GB/s, roughly triple that. the bandwidth of the A5.

Future AX chipsets would follow the same game plan – use the same hardware, just more. Tablets are larger than phones, which means they have bigger batteries and more surface area to dissipate heat, so they can handle the most powerful chipsets.

The Apple A6 is distinguished by the introduction of the first custom processor core designed in-house by Apple, called “Swift”. The GPU still came from Imagination. The A6X was a bit disappointing in that it only added an extra GPU core.

A few years later, the Apple A8X arrived, the first in the series to expand the CPU hardware as well as the GPU. It added an extra Typhoon core, for a total of three, while the number of GPU cores was doubled to eight. The A9X went back to having the same processor as the normal A9, but that was the last time – from then on all AX chipsets would have bigger processors.

2016’s Apple A10 chipset was the company’s first to adopt a big.LITTLE architecture. It had two large Hurricane cores as well as two small Zephyr cores. A year later, the A10X came with three of each, while doubling the number of GPU cores.

Small cores are great for efficiency, but having more than a few doesn’t add much performance. That’s why 2018’s Apple A12X chipset only doubled the large number of processor cores (to four), while using the same number of small cores (also four). The GPU was upgraded to a 7-core design, an 8-core version would arrive in 2020 as the Apple A12Z.

Fast forward to 2020 – after years of using Intel processors, Apple said goodbye to them and announced the first batch of Apple M1-powered Macs. It also marked a transition from x86 to ARM, the same ARM instruction set that powered its iPhones and iPads.

And it’s no coincidence that the Apple M1 used slightly modified versions of the components of the A14 (the chip inside the iPhone 12 and the 4th generation iPad Air) – the big hearts Firestorm and small Icestorm cores, same GPU architecture too.

Flashback: How the Apple M1 evolved from Apple's iPad chipsets

But as we have already seen, the trick to making the chipset faster is to add more cores. The M1 doubled the big CPU cores and doubled the GPU (although it offered chips with 7-core GPUs as a cost-cutting measure). As with the 12X, the small processor cores were unaffected. It helped that Apple’s designs already lead the way in performance and efficiency (TSMC deserves some credit for that), so the M1 handles office tasks with ease, even when cooled. passively.

The Apple M2 chipset that was announced earlier this month follows the same pattern, although this time it’s based on the A15 (iPhone 13) chipset. The M1 had Pro, Max and Ultra variants, the M2 certainly will too.

These just use different multipliers, for example the M1 Pro has 50% or 100% more big CPU cores than the base M1 and double the GPU cores. The Pro has reduced the small cores to two, but as mentioned before, only a few of them are needed. The Max uses the same CPU formula, but offers 3-4 times more GPU cores than the base M1. The Ultra doubles the CPU and GPU resources (it’s actually made up of two Pro chips).

2012/2012 Apple A5 A5X
Big CPU cores 2x Cortex-A9 2x Cortex-A9
Small processor cores
2012 Apple A6 A6X
Big CPU cores 2x Swift 2x Swift
Small processor cores
GPUs SGX543 MP3 SGX554 MP4
2014 Apple A8 Apple A8X
Big CPU cores 2x Typhoon 3x Typhoon
Small processor cores
GPUs 6XT 4 core 6XT 8 core
2015 Apple A9 Apple A9X
Big CPU cores 2x Tornado 2x Tornado
Small processor cores
GPUs 7XT 6 core 7XT 12 Core
2016/2017 Apple A10 Apple A10X
Big CPU cores 2x hurricane 3x hurricane
Small processor cores 2x Zephyr 3x Zephyr
GPUs 7XT GT 6 Core 12 hearts
2018/2020 Apple A12 Apple A12X/A12Z
Big CPU cores 2x Vortexes 4x Vortexes
Small processor cores 4x Storm 4x Storm
GPUs G11P 4 core 7/8 hearts
2020 Apple A14 Apple M1
Big CPU cores 2x Firestorm 4x Firestorm
Small processor cores 4x ice storm 4x ice storm
GPUs Apple 4 hearts Apple 7/8 cores
2021/2022 Apple A15 Apple M2
Big CPU cores 2x Avalanche 4x Avalanche
Small processor cores 4x blizzard 4x blizzard
GPUs 4 hearts 8/10 hearts

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