Apple describes 7nm A12 Bionic chip
The chip will be used to power three new smartphones; the iPhone XS, the big-screen iPhone XS max and the lower cost iPhone XR.
The chip is made for Apple by foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (Hsinchu, Taiwan) in its 7nm FinFET manufacturing process, the same source as the recently announced Kirin 980 SoC (see China claims 7nm chip lead with Kirin 980), which is inside Huawei’s next phablet phones.
As such the winner of the race to first to market in 7nm will probably be contrived to be a face-saving draw between the US and China, as both Huawei’s and Apple smartphone products are due to become available in October.
Apple’s A12 Bionic SoC contains a six-core CPU, a four-core GPU and octacore neural processing engine.
The CPU is similar architecture to the six-core CPU on an the 10nm A11 with two performance core and four efficiency-optimized cores. Apple calls the architecture “Fusion” but does not refer to the individual cores, which were Monsoon and Mistral respectively in the A11. It is quite possible they are same and Apple is just taking a benefit from the process shrink in this part of the A12 chip.
The two “big” performance cores are said to be 15 percent faster and 40 percent lower power. The “little” cores in the big-little combination are said to consume 50 percent less power.
Apple described the four-core GPU part of the chip as being Apple designed and up to 50 percent faster than the previous year’s model which was also the first time that Apple parted ways with long-time GPU supplier Imagination Technologies. It also features multilayer rendering and loss compression of textures to memory. What was unclear in the A11 and remains unclear in the A12 Bionic is whether this is ALL Apple’s own work or whether they are using an ARM license for Mali cores or perhaps operating under the protection of an ARM architectural license for graphics.
Next: What no lawsuit?
Last year Imagination’s position was that Apple had to be infringing on Imagination patents. Since then Imagination has been bought by CBFI Investment Ltd., a company owned by Canyon Bridge Partners LLC, which in turn operates investments for Chinese state funds. No patent infringement suits have been reported so far despite a febrile trade war atmosphere between the US and China (see Imagination, MIPS to be sold to China-, California-connected VCs).
The big change is the chip is the scaling of the neural engine from two cores in the A11 to eight cores on the A12 with Apple claiming a compute throughput of five trillion floating point operations per second. The neural engine does support multiple data precision points, a topic that has become hot in the last year, but as always the devil is in how such details have been implemented.
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