Back in January, Apple quietly released the iOS 6.1 firmware for an Apple TV device with code name J33I (the code name of the third generation Apple TV is J33).
Code references in the iOS 6.1 firmware indicated that the new Apple TV device will be powered by Apple’s A5X chip and use the same WLAN+Bluetooth antenna/chip combo that has been used in iPhone 5. The dual-core A5X chip with quad-core graphic powered the third generation iPad (or the new iPad), which was discontinued last year.
It was widely speculated that Apple is planning a similar approach, by using the A5X processor in the new Apple TV, it will test the platform and later ramp up production of the A5X processor for the next generation iPad mini. It also meant that the quad-core graphics of the A5X processor could be used to power next iPad mini’s Retina Display.
Unfortunately, those speculations may not be accurate as MacRumors has discovered that the tweaked Apple TV that have now started hitting Apple’s retail store, does not contain an A5X chip. It is actually powered by a A5 chip like its predecessor, but is even smaller than the previous one.
The original A5 chip introduced in 2011 for the iPad 2 was built on a 45-nanometer process, measuring 10.09 mm by 12.15 mm, while the first die-shrunk A5 introduced in 2012 for the third-generation Apple TV and the tweaked iPad 2 measured 41% smaller at 8.19 mm by 8.68 mm.
This new A5 found in the tweaked third-generation Apple TV is considerably smaller still, with our measurements putting the chip at just 6 mm by 6 mm.
The smaller A5 chip has sparked off speculation that Apple may be piloting a 28-nanometer process from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chip manufacturer. If that’s indeed true then the new die-shrunk A5 chip would make it the first chip to be manufactured by a company other than Samsung.
Apple has already taken steps to reduce its reliance on Samsung with A6 system-on-chip. Apple did not work with the Korean company on the development of its new A6 processor, which powers iPhone 5 and simply uses them as a foundry to manufacture the chip. Samsung had contributed to the design and development of processors used in previous generation iPhones. So the next logical step seems to be to also move manufacturing to another foundry operator like TSMC or even Intel.
There have also been rumors that Apple has signed a deal with TSMC for the production of A7 quad-core processors that could be used in iOS devices in 2014.
Samsung better watch out, Apple seems to be very serious about moving its business.