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New chips power Apple's next-gen iPad, iPhones

Posted: 10 Sep 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:A9  A9X  iPhone 6s  iPhone 6s Plus  MacBook 

Apple introduced its iPad Pro, iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, powered by new chips with an updated architecture, at the 7,000-person capacity Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.

The iPad Pro runs on a 64bit A9X, Apple's third generation of custom designed processors. While Apple was expectedly short on details, officials announced that A9X has twice the memory bandwidth of last year's A8X and is 1.8 times faster than the 8X processor inside the MacBook Air 2 for "desktop-class performance." The tablet supports 802.11ac MIMO and up to 150Mbit/s LTE.

The iPad Pro is faster than 80 per cent of the PCs that shipped in the past six months, said Apple Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller, and its graphics are faster than 90 per cent of those PCs. This is due in large part to an updated transistor architecture—likely a 14nm or 16nm FinFET process from Samsung or TSMC.

Apple is likely comparing its A9X to Intel's Haswell processor, said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst with Tirias Research. "Apple is indicating that they've added a lot of performance to the ARM processors that they custom design... and saying they can get equivalent or better performance [to the MacBook Air]."

iPad Pro

The iPad Pro is compatible with Apple Pencil, a stylus for drawing and sketching. (Source: Apple)

"Part of it is just larger transistor count. [FinFET] transistors are faster and have lower leakage, which will help design," Krewell said. "They didn't talk about how many GPU counts but doubled the performance of the CPU, so either there are more cores added or you increased the clock speed."

Despite talk about saturation of the tablet market and a reported drop in tablet processor sales, Apple spent a good amount of its two-hour event touting the new iPad. Partnerships with Microsoft and Adobe, as well as a new detachable keyboard and stylus, make the Pro a staunch competitor of the Microsoft Surface in consumer and creative enterprise markets.

"I think the iPad Pro will be a very popular alternative to the MacBook Pro; it might hurt MacBook Pro sales," Krewell told EE Times. "[The price of the iPad Pro is] going to be comparable in price to the MacBook Airs, and I think that's a very deliberate choice."

Apple claims that the new iPad will last 10 hours on a single charge. The device likely has room for a larger battery by virtue of being slightly heavier than the first iPad at 1.57lbs and larger than the Air 2 at 12.9in and 6.9mm thick.

- Jessica Lipsky
  EE Times U.S.

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