A7 processor used in iPhone 5s manufactured by Apple's arch-rival Samsung

A7 processor used in iPhone 5s manufactured by Apple's arch-rival Samsung

Summary: Despite being engaged in a global patent battle, Apple and Samsung are happy to work together on a major component for the new iPhone 5s.

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Following the unveiling of Apple's new flagship iPhone 5s smartphone there was a great deal of speculation as to who would get the job of manufacturing the silicon. While Samsung has manufactured all existing iOS processors, the increasingly vitriolic patent was between the two companies led some to believe that the Cupertino giant would want to distance itself from the South Korean giant. 

Die of the A7 processor found in the iPhone 5s
(Source: Chipworks/iFixit)

However, a teardown of the chip carried out by Chipwork in conjunction with iFixit shows that Samsung continues to be Apple's go-to company for processors.

While the hardware might have come from Samsung, the A-series processors uses in iDevices are all based on Apple's reworkings of ARM silicon.

"We have confirmed through early analysis that the device is fabricated at Samsung's Foundry and we will confirm process type and node later today as analysis continues," said a Chipworks spokesperson.

"That being said, we suspect we will see Samsung's 28 nm Hi K metal Gate (HKMG) being used. We have observed this same process in the Samsung Exynos Application processor used in the Galaxy S4. Our engineers will be deprocessing the Apple A7 as soon as they can to confirm this or they can provide different information."

So it seems that while Apple and Samsung are happy to have patent battles that span the globe, the two are also willing to work together on a major component for Apple's flagship product line.

Chipworks has also found the elusive M7 processor which iFixit missed in the initial teardown. The chip was found hiding under a neoprene cover on the mainboard.

M7 coprocessor in the iPhone 5s
(Source: Chipworks/iFixit)

According to Chipworks the M7 coprocessor is an NXP LPC18A1 chip believed to be based on an ARM Cortex-M3 core, and is used for realtime processing and translating of the inputs provided to it by the gyroscope, accelerometer and electromagnetic compass.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, iPhone, Processors

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37 comments
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  • but how is it possible?!

    "Samsung was blindsided by Apple's 64bit A7" they say...

    "TSMC is going to put Samsung out of business" they say...
    Samic
    • Of course Samsung was blindsided, because they manufacture A7 blindfolded

      Apple sends them renders for lithography for each layer of the SoC, so Samsung has no idea what the chip actually is at all. The only thing Samsung can guess is approximate count of transistors -- though even this only by die area.
      DDERSSS
      • Right...

        because Samsung don't need to test and make sure all these 64-bit registers actually works during QA/binning process.

        Don't let the fact gets in the RDF I guess.
        Samic
        • Apple provides a scheme of input and output paramters to check

          Samsung has no idea what it is the logic of the SoC, it is not needed for what they do.

          Again: they receive rendered scheme of each layer for SoC for the lithography machines. They have no idea what the SoC is, and they do not needed it neither to make the chip nor to check it if is working or not.
          DDERSSS
          • Biggest BS

            I have read so far...
            Koymik
          • Which means that there is nothing you can oppose to the basic facts you do

            ... not know about chip manufacturing.
            DDERSSS
          • And you do?

            I don't throw this label around too often but... you're a moron.
            Rann Xeroxx
      • yeah right!

        You're smoking funny stuff again aren't you? Engineers even get a glimpse of something and they cannot copy it because clean room engineering is out for them... Now you would have us believe that these engineers don't know what they're looking at? These are Samsung engineers, not Apple Geniuses!

        Also, if you look at the fact that this is ARM 8 based and Samsung has an ARM 8 CPU in the works, then you had really better believe this is something they knew about.
        slickjim
        • Samsung working on their own ARMv8 SoC has nothing to do with them ...

          ... manufacturing A7 SoC for Apple.

          Again, say it along with me: Samsung can not see what the SoC is from layered renders for lithography machines that it gets to manufacture the chip.

          Of course the knew the chip was going to be called A7 -- just as anyone else -- but there is no way to understand what it is and how it works on the phase of manufacturing.

          If you have no idea how chip manufacturing goes, then do not comment.
          DDERSSS
          • Too many people who mistake their college cleanroom for a fab on this chain

            figuring out the logic from a chip layout is hard enough when you run CRC and LVS against a known schematic. Trying to reverse it is pretty darn difficult. Apple also supplies test vectors without the key for understanding what a specific output means
            chetbr
      • What?

        You actually have no idea what you're talking about.
        Rann Xeroxx
      • Barking up the wrong tree

        Samsung is a major component supplier.

        ToMost of their customers are also competitors. To be able to supply components to their competitors, Samsung NEED the market to believe that they can operate and respect a Chinese wall.

        If the market no longer believes that that wall works, then Samsung as a component supplier is finished.

        And if Apple had conclusive evidence of it not working, the damages case would make the current patent spats look like foreplay.
        Henry 3 Dogg
      • fanboys back pedal

        Wow, before this, the fanboys were adamant that Samsung doesn't make the A7.
        Now that they have been proven wrong, they back pedal one step and claim Samsung has no clue about the A7.
        Let's see, a huge order of billion transistor chips going to Apple, wonder what that might be?
        In any case, the silicon logic for the 64bit cpu is cut and paste from ARM. Samsung already has ARM license for 64bit so doesn't need to reverse engineer any of it.
        So Apple is first out the door with 64bit ARM.
        Cool story bro.
        warboat
    • This move just goes to show ...

      ... that it's just business.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Even the idea of "arch rival" is a fanboy concept

        Apple and Samsung are making billions cooperating with each other while their respective fanboys are at each others throats for no reason at all.
        Tigertank
    • of course they knew about it ahead of time.

      Do you really thing Samsung didn't make an extra batch just to tear it down and make a clean room version later? There is no way Samsung just blindly makes these chips. There's testing, quality control, and manufacturing process designing that simply cannot occur without knowing how the product is supossed to do when completed.
      rockfanMCE
      • You don't have a clue how a fab works.

        See my post below. And if Samsung held back an extra batch, they'd get their lunch handed to them by pretty much any court in the world. It didn't happen.
        baggins_z
    • I used to work in a fab

      The guys running the equipment aren't engineers or chip designers. They are assembly line workers. They load the photo into the machine. They load the silicon. They expose it. They send it to the sputterer. They send it to positive or negative photoresist development. They send it to etching and washing (my job). They sent it to packaging. They send it to test where they load the test program and run the chip through the testers. Green light means pass, red light mean reject.

      And that about sums up the manufacturing process.
      baggins_z
      • That was sort of a cool post!

        Glad I read it.
        kenosha77a
  • The old saw

    Never believe anything you hear and only half of what you read; needs an update since 99% of what you read on the Internet today is the same as something you heard back in the day.
    greywolf7