Following its practice with the iPhone, Apple opted to carry over its previous iPad 2 model at a reduced price as a category entry-level offering selling alongside the New iPad with Retina display.
However, the “new” iPad 2, which is available only in the base, 16 GB WiFi version at $399.00, isn’t quite the direct carry-over it appears to be, and not in just a trivial way.
The big difference between the original iPad 2 and the “new” iPad 2 is in the processor. While both use A5 dual-core CPUs, the currentlly-sold iPad 2 model uses a new, smaller A5 chip rather than the A5 that powered the original version iPad 2. According to a Chipworks blog report, that previous generation A5, part number APL0498, was manufactured on Samsung Semiconductors’ 45 nm LP CMOS process, while this new A5 processor is manufactured using Samsung’s new 32 nm high-k metal gate, gate first, LP CMOS process technology.
However, the New (Retina) iPad’s A5X is still made using the an older 45-nanometer process. That means the entry-level iPad 2 is currently equipped with the most advanced Apple A-Series silicon of any Apple iOS product. Which seems a bit peculiar. I mean, why would Apple bother re-engineering its holdover entry-level tablet to run its most cutting-edge mobile processor chip?
Unless……. the new iPad 2 is being used as a testbed for the CPU that will be used in the next iPhone. That postulate appears to make quite a bit of logical sense. Reportedly, Samsung’s 32nm chip fabrication process has allowed the A5′s physical size to be reduced by 41 percent, which is pretty substantial, and could arguably be a key facilitator in making the next iPhone thinner, while paradoxically packing in a larger display, LTE 4G support, and perhaps NFC electronic credit card support.
Macworld Labs’ James Galbraith reported this week that there is virtually no difference in performance between the 32nm and 45nm iPad 2 A5 CPUs, although unsurprisingly, the New iPad’s A5X chip with its quad-core graphics processing engine was quicker in graphics and Web (also graphics) performance.
However, I think it’s unlikely that Apple will use the A5X in the iPhone 5. The quad-core graphics are mainly dedicated to supporting the iPad’s big Retina display’s prodigious pixel count, which should not be necessary for the iPhone with its smaller screen. However, the iPhone would benefit from the physically smaller chip, which would evidently offer the same computing power with presumably lower power demand and heat-generating capacity.
Another possibility is that the 32nm A5 is being test-vetted for use in a forthcoming iPad mini with a 7-8-inch display, but it could be both rather than either-or.
Now, there are a fair few folks who are hoping for, or even expecting, a quad-core A6 CPU in the next iPhone. They may be right, but I’m skeptical. My considered best guess at this point is that the A6 will first appear in the fourth-generation iPad, probably in March, 2013, and I’m thinking that the CPU for this year’s iPhone release may well be that 32nm A5 powering the revision two iPad 2.
Comments welcome as always.