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An Inside look into Apple Silicon Journey

Apple’s remarkable decision to integrate its homegrown chips into its Mac elated its fans. Apple had been using Intel’s processors for decades. Over the past two years, Apple is transitioning away from Intel chips and successfully launched its first ARM-based SoC (System on Chip) and SiP (System in Package) processors for its Macs termed Apple Silicon Chips. iPhones and iPads already come with ARM processors.

 

Overview of Some Early Processors

 

The first generation of the iPhone was released in June 2007. Since then, Apple has launched a new smartphone every year, which was smarter than the previous one. Every year, a new smartphone with an upgraded processor and an updated operating system was released to make the iPhone run even better than before.

 

The iPhone and iPod introduced in 2007 were specified by Apple and manufactured by Samsung. At that time, SoC chips were based on ARM architecture including a CPU (Central Processing Unit) a GPU (Graphical Processing Unit), and other components for mobile computing. iPhone 2G or iPhone 1 or original was the first iPhone model and smartphone launched by Apple Inc.

 

Later, processors developed by Apple were named A Series. The Apple A series is a group of SoC designs that Apple created for use in its iPhones, iPods, and Apple TVs. The SoC package contains a CPU, a GPU, and a cache memory along with other blocks necessary to provide mobile computing.

 

ALP0098 (8900B)

 

 

The processor used in the original iPhone and 1st generation iPod touch was ALP0098 or 8900B. It was based on a PoP (Package on Package) SoC (system on chip). It included a single-core ARM 11 and PowerVR MBX Lite GPU. It was produced by Samsung on a 90nm process.

 

Year introduced: 2007

Devices: iPhone and 1st generation iPod touch

Process node used: 90nm

 

ALP0278 (S5L8720)

 

 

It includes a 533 MHz single-core ARM11 CPU and a PowerVR MBX Lite GPU.

Year introduced: 2008

Devices: 2nd generation iPod touch

Process node: 65nm

 

ALP0298 (S5L8920)

 

 

The Samsung S5L8920 is a PoP system on chip including a single core ARM Cortex-A8 CPU and PowerVR SGX535 GPU.

 

Year introduced: 2009

Devices: iPhone 3GS

Process node: 65nm

 

APL2298 (S5L8922)

 

It is similar to ALP0298 using a 45nm process.

 

Year introduced: 2009

Devices: 3rd generation iPod touch Process node: 45nm

 

 

Series A Overview

 

Apple A4

 

The A4 features a single-core ARM Cortex-A CPU and single-core PowerVR SGX535 GPU.

 

 

Year introduced: 2010

Devices: iPhone 4, 4th generation iPod touch, Apple TV (2nd generation)

Process node: 45nm

 

Apple A5

 

This chip replaced the previous one (Apple A4). The A5 contains a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU and dual-core PowerVR SGX543MP2 GPU. According to Apple, the A5 GPU provides “up to nine times the graphics performance” compared to the A4 and the A5 CPU “can accomplish twice the work.”

 

 

Year introduced: 2011

Devices: iPhone 4S, 5th generation iPod touch, iPad 2, 1st generation iPad mini

Process node: 45nm

 

Apple A5X

 

It is a high-performance variant of the Apple A5 introduced in the third-generation iPad. It has twice the graphics performance as compared to A5 because the number of graphic cores doubled. It has a quad-core graphic unit as well as a quad-channel memory controller.

 

 

Year introduced: 2012

Devices:  3rd generation iPad

Process node: 45nm

 

Apple A6

 

It is a PoP system on chip that has a custom Apple-designed processor called swift. It is ARMv7 based dual-core CPU and a triple-core PowerVR SGX 543MP3

 

 

Year introduced: 2012

Devices: iPhone 5, iPhone 5C

Process node: 32nm

 

Apple A6X

 

It is a high-performance variant of the Apple A6. As compared to Apple A5X it has twice the CPU and graphic performance. As compared to Apple A6, this SoC contains the same dual-core swift CPU while quad-core GPU.

 

 

Year introduced: 2012

Devices: 4th generation iPad

Process node: 32nm

 

Apple A7

 

It is the company’s first-ever 64-bit processor to be used in smartphones. Apple claims that it is two times faster than its predecessor the Apple A6. A7 features ARMv8-A (1.4GHz and 64bit) dual-core CPU called Cyclone, along with integrated GPU PowerVR G6430. This processor was also designed by Apple and manufactured by Samsung.

 

 

Year introduced: 2013

Devices: iPhone 5S, iPad Air, iPad Mini 2, and iPad Mini 3

Process node: 28nm

 

Apple A8

 

The A8 is a 64-bit PoP SoC manufactured by TSMC on a 20nm process. As compared to its predecessor A7, it offers 25% more CPU and 50% GPU performance. The power consumption is almost 50% less and the physical size is 13% less than its predecessor. It features a dual-core ARMv8-A, along with PowerVR GX6450 in a four-cluster configuration.

 

 

Year introduced: 2014

Devices: iPhone 6, iPhone 6+, iPad Mini 4, Home Pod

Process node: 20nm

 

Apple A8X

 

It is a high-performance variant of the A8, introduced in iPad Air 2. Apple claims that it offers 40% more CPU performance (as it has a triple-core CPU) and 2.5% more GPU performance (it has an octa-core GPU) than its predecessor A7.

 

 

Year introduced: 2014

Devices: iPad Air 2

Process node: 20nm

 

Apple A9

 

It is a 64-bit SoC based on ARMv8-A dual-core CPU called Twister. A9 also features a custom PowerVR Series7XT. As compared to A8, the CPU performance is boosted by 70% while GPU performance is boosted by about 90%. It was the last CPU that Samsung had manufactured for Apple. The rest of the A series chips are manufactured by TSMC.

 

 

Year introduced: 2015

Devices: iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, 1st-generation iPhone SE, 5th-generation iPad

Process node: 16 nm (TSMC) to 14 nm (Samsung) using FinFET technology

 

Apple A9X

 

It is a high-performance variant of the A9. As compared to A8X, it offers 80% more CPU performance and twice the GPU performance.

 

 

Year introduced: 2015

Devices: iPod Pro

Process node: 16nm (TSMC)

 

Apple A10 Fusion

 

It is a 64-bit SoC that has a new ARMbig.Little quad-core processor. Out of four cores, two cores are Apple-designed ARMv8-A cores called a hurricane. These are high-performance cores. The other two cores are energy-efficient cores called Zephyr. It offers 40% greater CPU performance and 50% greater graphics performance than Apple A9.

 

 

Year introduced: 2016

Devices: iPhone 7, iPhone 7+, 6th generation iPad, 7th generation iPad, and 7th generation iPod Touch

Process node: 16 nm

 

Apple A10X Fusion

 

It is based on ARMv8-A six-core CPU, and 12-core GPU. As compared to A9X, it is 34% smaller (die size), 30% faster CPU performance, and 40% faster GPU performance.

 

 

Year introduced: 2017

Devices: 1st generation iPod Pro (10.5″), 2nd generation iPod Pro (12.9″), Apple TV 4K

Process node: 10nm FinFET

 

Apple A11 Bionic

 

It is a 64-bit ARMv8-A six-core CPU, with two high-performance cores called Monsoon (which are 25% faster than A10) and four energy-efficient cores called Mistral (which are 70% faster than energy-efficient cores in A10). It features a three-core GPU with 30% more performance than A10. Apple’s “Neural Engine,” which improves artificial intelligence and machine learning processes, is available for the first time on an A-series CPU. The Bionic chip is only used in the following iPhones.

 

Year introduced: 2017

Devices: iPhone 8, iPhone 8+, iPhone X

Process node: 10nm FinFET

 

Apple A12 Bionic

 

It is a 64-bit ARM (ARMv8.3-A) based 6-core processor. Two cores are high-performance cores (15% faster than its predecessor A11 Bionic) the other four cores are energy-efficient cores (50% more power efficient than A11 Bionic). The A12 also integrates a four-core GPU, which is 50% faster than the A11. It also includes a “Next-generation Neural Engine”.

 

 

Year introduced: 2018

Devices: iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max iPhone XR, 6th generation Apple TV, 3rd generation iPad Air, 5th generation iPad Mini, 8th generation iPad

Process node: 7nm FinFET

 

Apple A12X Bionic

 

It is an eight-core variant of A12. It has four high-performance cores and four energy-efficient cores. It overall has 90% faster CPU performance than its predecessor A10X.

 

 

Year introduced: 2018

Devices: 1st generation iPad Pro (11.0″), 3rd generation iPad Pro (12.9″)

Process node: 7nm FinFET

 

A12Z Bionic

 

It is an updated version of A12X. It has an 8-core GPU.

 

 

Year introduced: 2020

Devices: 2nd generation iPad Pro (11″), 4th generation iPad Pro (12.9″), Developer Transition Kit (ARM, 2020)

Process node: 7nm FinFET

 

Apple A13 Bionic

 

It is a 64-bit ARM-based SoC. It has 18 cores in all. There are six-core CPUs, two of which are high-performance cores (they offer 20% faster and 30% lower power consumption than A12’s) and four high-efficiency cores (they offer 20% faster with 40% lower power consumption than A12’s). GPU has 4 cores and the neural engine has eight cores.

 

 

Year introduced: 2019

Devices: iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, 2nd generation iPhone SE, 9th generation iPad Process node: N7P (N7P is an optimized version of TSMC N7 process)

 

Apple A14

 

It is a 64-bit ARMv8.5-A system on chips. Its CPU has 6 cores and it is 40% faster than A12. The GPU has 4 cores and is 30% faster than A13. It also includes a 16-core neural engine.

 

 

Year introduced: 2020

Devices: iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, 4th generation iPad Air

Process node: 5nm

 

Apple A15 Bionic

 

It is also a six-core CPU, based on ARMV8. Two cores are high-performance cores called Avalanche, the other four are high-efficiency cores called Blizzard. It also includes a 16-core neural engine. There is a four-core GPU in iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini, while five core GPU in iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, and iPad Mini 6.

 

 

Year introduced: 2021

Devices: iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 12

3, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, 3rd generation iPhone SE, 6th generation iPad mini

Process node: 5nm (second generation)

 

H Series Overview

 

The Apple “H” series refers to the family of systems on chip (SoC) particularly designed for headphones. “H” in model numbers stands for headphones.

 

 

The tiny device called AirPods also contains chips. These specialized microprocessors handle the functionality necessary for a successful connection, and transmission of audio signals between devices.

 

Apple H1

 

2nd generation AirPods utilize the H1 processor. It is an SoC for wireless audio headphones. The chip includes a modem for Bluetooth connections, a digital signal processor  (DSP) for audio signal processing, and a coprocessor. Each pair of AirPods contains a microprocessor that allows them to connect, and manage Bluetooth connections and other functions necessary for successful Bluetooth connectivity and operation.

 

Apple states that the chip is not only for AirPods. It is used in several products which are listed below.

 

As compared to Apple W1 this model brought additional capabilities and performance refinements. Some of them are listed below:

  • Immediate pairing or connection
  • Increased stability, speed, and distance of Bluetooth signal
  • Power efficiency, Improved battery life in devices
  • Less latency
  • Faster speed when switching between active devices
  • ‘Hey Siri’ voice activation
  • 50% more talk time
  • Qi-compatible wireless charging case

 

Year introduced: 2019

 

Devices: 2nd generation AirPods, 3rd generation AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, Beats Solo Pro, Beats Powerbeats Pro, Beats Powerbeats (2020), Beats Fit Pro Bluetooth version: 5.0

 

M Series Overview

 

The Apple M series SoC is used in Mac computers and tablets introduced in November 2020 and onwards. These processors are designed by Apple and manufactured by TSMC on a 5nm process.

 

 

 

Apple M1

 

It is ARM-based SoC with 4 high-performance cores (firestorm) and 4 energy efficiency cores (icestorm) making up an 8-core CPU in total. These cores first appeared in A14 Bionic. The Apple-designed GPU has 8-cores.

 

 

Year introduced: 2020

Devices: MacBook Air, Mac mini, MacBook Pro (13-inch, M1, 2020), 5th generation iPad Pro, 5th generation iPad Air, iMac.

Process node: 5nm

 

Apple M1 Pro

 

It is a powerful version of M1. It integrates 6 to 8 high-performance cores and 2 energy-efficient cores.

It integrates a 14 to 16-core GPU and a 16-core neural engine.

 

 

Year introduced: 2021

Devices: MacBook Pro (14″, 16″)

Process node: 5nm

 

 

Apple M1 is maintaining a competitive edge over Intel’s processor (Core i7). The low cost, average CPU speed (which is 25% better than Core i5), and extended battery life of the M1 chip make it more appealing.

 

Apple M1 Max

 

It is the larger variant of the M1 Pro. It has eight high-performance and two energy-efficient cores. It integrates a 24 to 32-core GPU and 16-core neural engine. In terms of architecture and many of its functional building elements, it is identical to the M1 Pro. M1 Max is equipped with higher media blocks and GPU cores, which makes the GPU perform two times better.

 

 

Year introduced: 2021

Devices: MacBook Pro (14″, 16″), Mac Studio

Process node: 5nm

 

Apple M1 Ultra

 

The M1 Ultra combines two M1 Max dies in a single package with a technology Ultra Fusion packaging architecture. This package integrates 16high-performance cores, 4 high-efficiency cores, 48 to 64-core GPU, and a 32-core neural engine.

 

 

Year introduced: 2022

Devices: Mac Studio

Process node: 5nm

 

Apple M2

 

Apple claims CPU performs up to 18% and GPU performs up to 35% as compared to the predecessor M1. It has an 8-core CPU. 4 of them are performance cores which are faster than M1 while the other 4 are efficiency cores which have greater performance than M2. It has 8-10,-core GPU which is 2.3 times faster.

 

 

Year introduced: 2022

Devices: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro

Process node: Enhanced 5-nanometer technology” N5P process

 

S Series Overview

 

The Apple S series processors are particularly designed by Apple and manufactured by Samsung for Apple Watch. It is a Systems in a Package (SiP) that contains application processors, memory, and support processors to form a complete computer on a single package.

 

Apple S1

 

It is a 32-bit ARMv7-based integrated system that contains an application processor, memory, and coprocessor for handling Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity and sensors. It is described as a System in a Package.

 

 

Year introduced: 2014

Devices: Original Apple Watch

Process node: 28 nm

 

Apple S1P

 

The SiP integrated into Apple Watch Series 1 is called S1P. It is a variant of Apple S1 SiP (Systems in Package). It has the same dual-core CPU as in S2 and an enhanced GPU, making it 50% faster than S1.

 

Year introduced: 2016

Devices: Apple Watch Series 1

 Bluetooth version: 4.0

Process node: 28nm

 

Apple S2

 

It is an ARMv7-based SiP. It has a dual-core CPU and offers 50% higher performance and twice the GPU as the predecessor S1. It has a similar performance as compared to S1P. Except it has a built-in GPS receiver.

 

 

Year introduced: 2016

Devices: Apple Watch Series 2

Bluetooth version: 4.0

 

Apple S3

 

The Apple S3 Systems in Package (SiP) contains many discrete components, which include a Bluetooth module, a built-in altimeter, and LTE cellular connectivity (in some variants). This is the first Apple Watch with an LTE module.

 

 

Year introduced: 2017

Devices: Apple Watch Series 3

Bluetooth version: 4.2

 

Apple S4

 

Apple S4 is a processor used in Apple Watch Series 4. It is a 64-bit dual-core processor, similar to the A12. It has two energy-efficient cores. As compared to S2, it offers double performance. It is also equipped with a heart rate sensor, improved accelerometer, and gyroscope.

 

Year introduced: 2018

Devices: Apple Watch Series 4

Bluetooth version: 5.0

Process node: 7 nm

 

Apple S5

 

It is a SiP with a 64-bit dual-core more energy-efficient processor and the same GPU used in S4. It has a built-in magnetometer.

 

 

Year introduced: 2019

Devices: Apple Watch Series 5, Watch SE, HomePod mini

Bluetooth version: 5.0

Process node: 7nm

 

Apple S6

 

Apple S6 has a 64-bit dual-core processor and runs up to 20% faster than its predecessor S5. The dual-core CPU is similar to A13’s “little” Thunder cores. The new features introduced in this series are the U1 ultra-wideband chip and 5GHz WiFi.

 

 

Year introduced: 2020

Devices: Apple Watch Series 6

Bluetooth version: 5.0

Process node: 7nm

 

Apple S7

 

Apple Watch Series 7 has the same SiP as in the S6 which is T8301. According to Apple, the Series 7 has 20% more display area and 33% faster charging than the S6. The Series 7’s bezels are 40% thinner than the Series 6’s, allowing it to have a larger screen without making the device significantly larger.

 

 

Year introduced: 2021

Devices: Apple Watch Series 7

Bluetooth version: 5.0

Process node: 7nm

 

 

T Series Overview

 

These chips are included in Intel-based MacBook and iMac computers that were released in 2016 and afterward. The Secure Enclave is housed in the security chip that enables TouchID in portable Macs. The security chip performs some foremost security tasks and prevents them from hacking. Some of the tasks are encrypted biometric information, control access to microphones, and a FaceTime HD camera. Now, the T series processors are integrated into Macs, so they are no longer designed as separate processors.

 

Apple T1

 

This processor is a variant of the Apple watch’s S2. It is an SoC based on ARMv7. It manages a system management controller (SMC) to manage startup security and prevents unauthorized access. It also controls the Touch ID sensors of the MacBook introduced in 2016 and 2017.

 

Year introduced: 2016, 2017

Devices: MacBook Pros with Touch Bar

 

Apple T2

 

This security chip is a system on a chip “SoC” (a variant of Apple A10 Fusion) tasked with providing security and controller features. It is a 64-bit ARMv8 provided with Intel-based Mac Computers. It performs security tasks and well as manages the overall performance of the CPU. It processes the data for the Touch ID fingerprint. It provides secure boot options. It also protects laptop microphones, HD cameras, encrypted data storage, and an Activation Lock.

 

Year introduced: 2017

Devices: MacBook Pros (2018, 2019, 2020), MacBook Air (2018, 2019, 2020), Mac Pro (2019), iMac Pro (2017)

Process node: 16nm (FinFET)

 

 

U Series

 

U stands for the ultra-wideband. It refers to the family of SiP (System In Package) that is responsible for tracking the device’s location more accurately than the GPS tracking system with the help of short-range radio technology. It Could be used to find devices indoors. Like Bluetooth, Ultra Wideband also doesn’t require much power to work.

 

Apple U1

 

It is a processor based on Cortex-M4.

 

ARMv7E-M, designed and marketed by Apple. Its U2 chip is currently integrated into iPhones and Apple watches. But in the future, this technology will not be limited to these devices only. Also, this is not available in all regions because of international regulatory requirements.

 

Year introduced: 2019

Devices: Apple Watch Series 6, 7, AirTag, HomePod Mini, iPhone 11 (all variants), iPhone 12 (all variants), iPhone 13 (all variants)

Process node: 16nm FinFET

 

W Series

 

The Apple “W” refers to the family of systems on chips (SoCs) and wireless chips, particularly for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. “W” in model numbers stands for wireless.

 

Apple W1

 

It is an SoC designed and marketed by Apple for its Bluetooth earbuds. They are the most widely used Apple accessory. Apart from audio, it also offers some striking features as well.

 

There are built-in microphones with specialized noise cancellation features that help with noise-free phone calls. There are built-in accelerators, and optical sensors as well.

 

Year introduced: 2016

Devices: 1st generation AirPods, BeatsX, Beats Solo3 Wireless, Beats Studio 3, Beats PowerBeats3 Wireless Bluetooth version: 4.2

 

Apple W2

 

W2 is the SiP chip designed and marketed by Apple. This chip first appeared in the Apple watch series 3, later integrated into the Apple S3 processor. It is known for its faster WLAN connection, which is 85% faster than its predecessor. While it boosts the WiFi and Bluetooth up to 50% more efficiently. It has LTE capability as well.

 

Year introduced: 2017

Devices: Apple Watch Series 3, AirPods and Powerbeats Bluetooth version: 4.2 WLAN: 2.4GHz

 

Apple W3

 

W3 is an SoC processor for controlling Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity. It is used in Apple watches. It is integrated into Apple S4, S5, and S6 processors.

 

Year introduced: 2018

Devices: Apple Watch Series 4, Apple Watch Series 5, Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch Series 7, Apple Watch SE

Bluetooth version: 5.0

WLAN: 2.4GHz

 

Apple Future Plans

 

Apple used to launch a new processor every year and was able to transition all its MACs to in-house designed chips. The latest chip is M2, its successor might be M2 or  TSMC will start mass production of the 3nm wafer. Apple Inc is going to be the first to use this technology in its devices.

 

“Taiwan’s Commercial Times reports that Apple will be the first customer for TSMC’s “3 nm” process in the second half of the year.”

 

Gradually, in the upcoming devices, Apple Silicon processors might come up with a 3-nanometer technology design. The 3nm semiconductor manufacturing technique may improve the performance and power efficiency of Apple’s products. This year the company is going to unveil its devices.

 

Once again we are expecting four models of phone this year. On the watch side, there are more than two models are expected.

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