Apple has used an all new chip for its recently launched iPad tablet; according to iFixit, the tablet is powered by an Apple CPU that is based on an ARM design. The new CPU has been dubbed the Apple A4.
While there was only brief mention about the CPU in Steve Jobs’ speech at the launch, he did confirm that it is clocked at 1GHz and is a system-on-a-chip. This means it carries the GPU, CPU, I/O, and memory controller all on a single chip.
Apple signaled its intentions of moving into chip making when it acquired P.A. Semi in April 2008. It then furthered its plans by first becoming an ARM licensee and then hiring Bob Drebin, CTO of AMD and ATI’s Graphics Products Group. It now seems that all of these were advance preparations for the iPad.
The A4 inside the iPad is an ARM CPU along the lines of either the Cortex-A8 or A9 MPCore. This makes it quite similar to the ARM core used by NVIDIA in its latest Tegra 2 SOC design. What this also means is that the A4 is not much different from the processor used in the HTC HD2 phone. But unlike the HTC HD2, which can run multiple applications at the same time, the iPad is only capable of handling a single application. No wonder it’s snappy and loads applications quickly and responsively.
There is however, very little known about its graphics or multimedia abilities. Apple though claims that the iPad should be able to play 720p videos with ease. All said and considered, the A4 is still very much a preliminary CPU and Apple might have to put in lots of work to make it successful. But its appearance in the netbook market definitely means another threat to Intel and its Atom CPU’s dominance of the market.