The iPhone 5s and the 'mythical' M7 coprocessor

The iPhone 5s and the 'mythical' M7 coprocessor

Summary: iFixit have carried out a teardown of the new iPhone 5s and have failed to find the new M7 coprocessor, leading them to believe that it is integrated into the A7 processor.

TOPICS: Hardware, iPhone

UPDATE: M7 motion coprocessor found.

The folks at iFixit managed to be one of the first people to get their hands on the new iPhone 5s, and they did with it what they do with every new bit of kit they get their hands on – they took it apart! And this is an interesting teardown because it gives us an insight into how Apple's marketing works.

During the iPhone 5s launch event, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller announced that the new handset would feature a new motion coprocessor called the M7. This chip, according to Apple, was designed to take in continuous realtime data from the motion sensors and process it, paving the way for a whole new range of new fitness apps.

During the event Schiller gave the impression that the M7 was a discrete chip inside the iPhone 5s, and the on-screen graphic during the event seemed to support that concept.

The M7 being introduced by Apple's Phil Schiller
(Source: Apple)

When a teardown of the iPhone 5s was carried out I fully expected the M7 processor to be revealed. But the latest teardown shows that there is no discrete M7 processor inside the new iPhone.

A mainboard from an iPhone 5s
(Source: iFixit)
A mainboard from an iPhone 5s
(Source: iFixit)

"Perhaps the 'M' stands for 'magical,' because it’s not there, folks,' wrote Miroslav Djuric, chief information architect of iFixit, in a statement to ZDNet. "The mythical M7 is most likely a combination of motion-oriented components, and not an actual dedicated chip as Apple implied during last week’s product announcement."

"Chock it up to savvy marketing," he said.

Inside the new iPhone 5s the iFixit team did however uncover some interesting hardware. They found the dual-core A7 based on the ARM v8 64-bit instruction set with what the team believes to be 1 GB of RAM. The also found a Qualcomm MDM9615M LTE modem, a WTR1605L transceiver, and that the updated 1.5 micron pixel pitch iSight camera is a new, until-now-unseen sensor from Sony.

Inside the iPhone 5s is a Murata Wi-Fi module which the team believes is home to a Broadcom BCM4334. What's interesting to note about this chipset is that it does not support the newer gigabit 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard.

Fully disassembled iPhone 5s
(Source: Apple)

On the repairability front iFixit gave the new iPhone 5s a 6 out of ten, where ten is easiest to repair. They liked the fact that the handset is easy to remove and that the battery is relatively easy to replace, but continue to dislike the proprietary pentalobed screws used to hope the handset together, and the fact that the screen is a single assembly which makes replacing it costly.

The team also noted that lashings of glue used to hold down the battery which made it tricky to remove, and a fragile ribbon cable used to connect the fingerprint sensor to the mainboard that could be damaged when opening the handset.

Topics: Hardware, iPhone

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  • Adrian, you going on holiday soon?

    Unusually high number of articles from yourself these last few weeks?
    • And?

      And what is the point of your comment? Is there something wrong with him pointing out that we may have been misled into thinking there was a separate chip as the Apple presentation slide suggested?
  • Is this why people buy phone covers?

    quote "but continue to dislike the proprietary pentalobed screws used to hope the handset together" case they drop their phone, the cover gives them hope that it holds together!
    • Nope

      A spokesman from the Pentalobe denies this.
      Robert Hahn
  • M7

    I would suspect that they took space on the A7 chip for a dedicated processor for motion inputs, rather than going with another graphics processor. This is further supported by on chip handling of the TouchID system, which also seems to be an isolated processor. With over 1 billion transistors, all that should be possible, and keeps the part count down.
    • Agreed

      it is an SoC after all.
  • Schiller gives the impression hes Apple #1 con man

    The dystopic Apple followers I am sure are already bending over in lines outside their stores.
  • You know,

    Sometimes they put more than one silicon chip inside a package. If the M7's data doesn't have to go anywhere but the primary CPU, there's no reason it can't be on the same package as the CPU.
    Jacob VanWagoner
    • Fair enough

      This is a reasonable take on the issue, but I must say, from watching the event, it was easy to come away thing that the M7 was a separate chip in a physical sense.
      • You mean like Intel's Crystalwell?

        Crystalwell is a 4th level cache for graphics on 4th generation Core i7's with Iris Pro graphics. It's a separate piece of silicon on the same package.
        Jacob VanWagoner
  • Possible explanation...

    Perhaps the M7 is a separate small unit on the same die as the A7.
    • Not necessarily

      They could easily put different pieces of silicon on the same package. Many companies have been doing that for a long time. Stack/through-hole, placing them side by side, etc.

      Currently, some of Intel's 4th gen Core i7's have a second chip on the package, known as Crystalwell, which adds a 128MB 4th level cache primarily dedicated for graphics.
      Jacob VanWagoner
  • So it was there all along....
  • "Mythical" ???

    The coprocessor is indeed a separate chip. Don't know why these hacks couldn't find it.
  • No it is in there lol

    This article lol... I'm no apple fan but there is a different chip in there.