According to an analyst at The Linley Group, a chip consultancy firm, Apple’s A6 system-on-chip won’t make it to the iPad 3 until July 2012. The A6 processor, successor to the 1 GHz dual-core A5 chip presently powers iPad 2, is expected to power future version of the iPad and iPhone.
We had earlier heard reports of the A6 chips being produced on a trial basis by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).
But according to the analyst, the rumored A6 chip would reach production stage in the second quarter of 2012 if all goes well. Since the release of the iPad, Apple has maintained a yearly upgrade cycle for these processors and if the analysts’ claims are true, this cycle could hit a roadblock. He says:
“A final version of the chip will enter production in 2Q12 ‘at the earliest’… We believe this timing makes sense. This pace would make the A6 one of the first 28 [nanometer] mobile processors (along with Qualcomm’s MSM8960) to enter production. This schedule, however, breaks Apple’s annual processor-upgrade cycle and will delay any products using the A6 until at least June 2012.”
The iPads are the first ones to feature Apple’s improved processors, and if Apple wants to maintain this trend it could delay the iPad 3 launch. Considering a scenario where Apple drifts away from this trend and chooses to stick to its Q1 launch of the iPad, the analyst says:
“[Apple] will have to use the same A5 processor as the current iPad 2, relying on the rumored new high-resolution ‘Retina’ display to drive the upgrade cycle.”
The analysts’ research note suggests that the A6 chip would be based on ARM’s Cortex-A9 quad core design. The chip would compete head to head with a similar quad-core offering from NVIDIA, which is expected to power Windows 8 and Android devices. The A6 chip would not only house double the cores found on the A5 processor, it would also use TSMC’s 3D technology akin to Intel’s Tri-Gate technology.
The research note agrees to the fact that Apple has indeed switched to TMSC from Samsung as a manufacturer for their processors, perhaps a consequence of the strained relations Apple presently shares with Samsung. As per the analyst, there are risks associated with switching manufacturers, citing an example where TSMC had problems dealing with new technology resulting in defects like Nvidia’s ‘bump-crack’ issue.
All in all the A6 chip seems to be a huge upgrade over the current generation A5 chips, but when Apple chooses to introduce them in its iOS devices can only be speculated. What would you want – a scheduled iPad 3 launch sans the A6 chip or a delayed launch with one?