iPhone 6s teardown results: Apple A9 is a dual-core chip, new 6-cluster GPU, more cache


The Apple iPhone 6s family is already available in the United States and the majority of Western markets, but while the phones are out there, some particularities including essential parts of their hardware remain a mystery.

We know that the new iPhone 6s series is powered by the brand new Apple A9 system chip, but that's about all the detail Apple officially provides. The company has not declared how many cores are in the CPU, what clocks it runs on, what's the GPU, and none of those technical details, instead focusing on the actual functionality and user experience.

Nonetheless, software and UI are just one part of an equation that requires the proper hardware to run at an optimally fast speed.

That's why we're particularly happy to see the chip wizards from Chipworks get their sophisticated x-ray gear and give us the first look at the scheme of Apple's A9 system chip along with some sorely missing details.

First, let's say that iFixit's teardown has already confirmed a couple of important details, including the size of the RAM memory in the iPhone 6s - it's now finally 2GB. Chipworks reveals one more thing about the RAM in the iPhone 6s: it comes from at least two sources, Hynix in some units (Chipworks') and Toshiba (in iFixit's).

The most important details, however, come from the image of the Apple A9 x-ray image. The A9 chip itself is labelled APL0898, and it measures approximately 8.7 mm x 10.7 mm, resulting in an area of some 94 mm2. The first thing that's immediately clear is that there are some big changes in terms of the lay-out of the actual chip with many components moved to different places. The A9 SoC itself measures 80% the size of the Apple A8 chip, a difference that can be explained by the fact that Apple has transitioned to a smaller, more precise 14nm manufacturing process.

The second huge news is that the CPU in the Apple A9 is still a dual-core one, just like the one in the A8. Keep in mind that the cores here are not immediately comparable to cores on Android, which are often smaller - Apple uses larger 'supercores' with more complex logic and those provide excellent single-core performance, an area that is hugely important. In this regard, Geekbench scores shows a very clear advantage: the Apple A9 is some 66% faster than the A8's CPU in single core speeds, and has nearly double the score of the fastest Qualcomm designs used in Android phones. On the flip side of things, multi-core performance is pretty much on par between flagships on Android and iOS, and here the fact that Android phones commonly use octa-core chips helps a lot.

The next interesting news is that Apple has upgraded the GPU on the Apple A9: it's now a six-cluster unit, up from a four-cluster PowerVR GX6450 GPU on the A8. Last year, speculations ran rampant that Apple might use a six-cluster Rogue XT series of GPU from Imagination Technologies, and we might be witnessing this with the iPhone 6s family.

Then, we can also see a bump in the low-level cache with this chip. Chipworks suggests there is 8MB of L3 cache (up from 4MB on the A8), and 3MB of L2 cache.

Those are all interesting details that shed light on the inner workings of the Apple A9 system chip. So far, our initial experience is that the phone feels noticeably faster, which is a great thing. Chipworks also gives the full list of various component models and their makers, and you can check those at the source link right below.


source: Chipworks

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110 Comments

1. javy108

Posts: 1004; Member since: Jul 27, 2014

I thou it was suposed to be quadcore, you know... Its a 2015 phone 650.00 + taxes price tag on US. But well If you like iOS then go for it.

4. UglyFrank

Posts: 2193; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

The fact of the matter is that this is the only current phone that can record 1080p120, clearly the amount of cores is irrelevant when they are designed in this manner. Android fans like this make everyone else look stupid (coming from the owner of many Samsung S models).

6. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Good point, +1for the truth.

8. darkkjedii

Posts: 30966; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Good points UF. +1 yo.

14. rd_nest

Posts: 1656; Member since: Jun 06, 2010

^^ Absolutely true.

20. Macready

Posts: 1817; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

That's actually more a function of the (co- or built in) ISP chip than the raw horsepower of the CPU, regardless of the amount of cores. There are dedicated cameras out there that can do 240fps @ 1080P with a lot less raw CPU power (A7SII for example) than any of the top tier phones. Altough marketing departments could make us believe it does tell us something about general CPU performance of course....

22. AlikMalix unregistered

Why doesn't Apple ever talk about their advances in chip/hardware design instead of bunch a features that they improved from older versions and android versions during the keynote. No wonder everyone thinks that they're always the same. They talked about faster FP sensor - but honestly though, I have it on my 2 year old 5s it's super fast - how much faster can it get? Edit: just saw a video, the new FP it's faster - didn't know it was possible.

62. vincelongman

Posts: 5677; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

The new FP sensor is so fast that unlock speed is only slowed down by the animation If you turn of the animation you can't even read the time on the lockscreen since its too fast

61. vincelongman

Posts: 5677; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Yep There's plenty of important CPU specs other than core count and Ghz e.g. Transistors, die size, decoder width, L1/L2/L3/L4 cache and memory bandwidth, pipeline length and plenty more Although that example you gave is wrong, since its more to do with the limitations of Qualcomm/Samsung/Sony's ISP and Sony/Samsung/Toshiba's camera sensor

68. nodes

Posts: 1158; Member since: Mar 06, 2014

and Note 5 can only record 4K for 5 mins. sure, Android with it's quadcore is so 2015. i thought 5 mins video is an MMS thing from the ancient?

106. j2001m

Posts: 3061; Member since: Apr 28, 2014

If you root it you can record without limits without any problems,I have no idea why Samsung keeps this limit.

107. Ninetysix

Posts: 2962; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

Please root the att and Verizon Samsung phones.

110. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Lmao I was waiting for you to make a comment.

111. Ninetysix

Posts: 2962; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

It's so easy for them to suggest root every time. They're unaware that root for the AT&T and Verizon samsung phones are pretty much nonexistent. Even if you're successful at rooting, you trip KNOX and break Samsung Pay :)

116. Plutonium239

Posts: 1199; Member since: Mar 17, 2015

Your limit is your free storage, which fills up very fast.

92. Nathillien unregistered

The amount of cores is irrelevant when you compare different cores in benchmarks, stupid. Of course you can stack one over the other as many you want but don't be surprised your battery lasts for few hours, dummy.

7. SamDH1

Posts: 419; Member since: Apr 21, 2015

This dual core A9 is destroying most Android flagships in 2015, so I don't think that it really matter....

12. No_Sammy_No_Gimmicks

Posts: 147; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

Welcome to 2020 Apple. That's how long it will take android to reach this type of single core performance. They are still at 2012 (Apple A6) at this point.

35. Berzerk000

Posts: 4275; Member since: Jun 26, 2011

It's closer to the A7. In Geekbench single core, the iPhone 5S scores 1300-1400, and the Exynso 7420 in the Galaxy S6 scores 1200-1300. The A6 in the iPhone 5 only scores 600-700

83. TylerGrunter

Posts: 1544; Member since: Feb 16, 2012

You are joking right? The Exynos 7420 scores 1400 more often than not in single core performance.http://browser.primatelabs.com/geekbench3/3586011 And it doubles the multicore performance as it has 4 cores instead of 2. The performance is superio5 to the iphone 6 (A8) most of the times.

113. Berzerk000

Posts: 4275; Member since: Jun 26, 2011

I was just going from the chart on the main Android page. https://browser.primatelabs.com/android-benchmarks

41. Guaire

Posts: 885; Member since: Oct 15, 2014

Nexus 9 are scored 2000 single core past year while A8X scores 1800. Unbelievable 5 people upvoted this BS not to mention A6.

64. Ordinary

Posts: 2454; Member since: Apr 23, 2015

5 accounts from the same person*

65. Ordinary

Posts: 2454; Member since: Apr 23, 2015

I can tell you the same about multi-core from Exynos 7420

80. vuyonc

Posts: 1089; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

No sure how much single core performance will matter by 2020 though.

100. Macready

Posts: 1817; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Single core performance is rather acedemic for Android. Even over 4 years ago, my S2 would employ both cores most of the time. Now, things like Chrome use up to 8 cores, balanced for efficiency. Those 2 Apple cores are huge and use more power than one core from say the S6 too. In fact the A9 takes up more real estate than the Ecynos octacore (about 93 vs 87 square mm). Different architectures for different operating systems and design goals. A bit like comparing the top speed in second gear between a six speed and 8 speed drivetrain.

103. alex3run

Posts: 715; Member since: May 18, 2014

Exynos is 78mm^2, not 87. Actually A9 is larger due to fatter GPU.

112. Macready

Posts: 1817; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Typo, thanks for the correction. But the point is, those large A9 cores have their limitations too. It's not like Apple could have thrown in 8 of those without sacrificing size and battery performance.

117. coldspring22

Posts: 349; Member since: Feb 28, 2015

Wrong, A9 score only 4423 on Geek bench multicore. That's pretty lame. Android flagships are hitting 6000 on multicore. Apple iphone is so 2013. Not only that, Apple has no fab technology, which is 50% of the battle in making advanced SOC. Without Android fab technology, Apple is nowhere.

73. vincelongman

Posts: 5677; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Only in benchmarks In the real world, the G4 performs faster, even with LG's skinhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JF7fK_kmPws

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