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Apple A10 teardown sheds light on quad-core SoC, confirms Intel won modem contract

Every time a new Apple device ships, it’s interesting to see how manufacturing technology has advanced. This year is no exception. The Apple device teardown revealed a number of interesting details and confirmed a rumor we’d heard before — Intel did indeed win at least some of the iPhone 7’s modem business (Intel builds the modem inside the AT&T and T-Mobile devices, denoted as the A1778 and A1784). The Verizon and Sprint products (A1660 and A1661) use a Qualcomm modem.

Chipworks, which performed the teardown and analysis, doesn’t dive into the implications of a dual-sourced modem between Intel and Qualcomm, but this may have practical repercussions depending on how you intend to use the device. Because Intel’s modems don’t support CDMA, you won’t be able to take AT&T or T-Mobile devices to non-GSM networks. The Qualcomm modems, in contrast, support both GSM and CDMA, meaning they should be compatible on any carrier network across the country.

Still, this is a huge feather in Intel’s cap. The company hasn’t had great luck pushing its XMM modems into high-profile device wins — at least, none it has prominently discussed. Apple’s sheer volume should drive materially higher profits for Chipzilla’s networking division.

Revised_A10_die

Unlike the iPhone 6s, which featured dual-sourcing between Samsung and TSMC, the iPhone 7 may be a TSMC-only design. Die size on the new chip is 125mm sq, a 20% size increase over the A9’s 104.5mm sq (at TSMC, the Samsung variant was smaller). According to Chipworks, the A10 is considerably more dense than the A9 thanks to better packing on Apple’s part — a straight scale-out of the A9 would’ve left Apple with a chip nearly 150mm sq, as compared to a relatively svelte 125mm sq.

The chip is built on TSMC’s 16FFC process. The “C” stands for compact, and the new node is intended for use in mainstream and low-power markets. Compared with 16nm FF+ (second-generation FinFET), FFC reduces SRAM area, leakage, and supports ultra-low power voltage modes (down to 0.6v). The diagram above shows Chipworks estimate on where specific features are located, after Anandtech helped them narrow down potential feature locations on the “little” CPU cores.

The battery is a 1960mAh unit, compared with the 1810mAh pack used in the iPhone 6s. The batteries that failed on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7, in contrast, are nearly twice this size. Overall, the iPhone 7 is a significant manufacturing step forward for Apple, a solid debut for TSMC’s 16FFC process node, and a major win for Intel, which can claim a significant design win for its own modem technology.

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