Why chip names tell us very little about the iPhone 5

The problem with processor names is that history tells us that there's very little we can deduce about the underlying hardware from these letters and numbers.

A report by 9to5Mac claims to have details of the hardware relating to the upcoming iPhone 5, likely to be called "the new iPhone". As interesting as posting CPU and GPU names might be, they tell us very little about the actual hardware.

The new processor is identified as the Samsung 5L8950X ARM CPU, and it is claimed that Apple internally refers to the chip as an A5 part. 9to5Mac claim that no more details can be released about the processor name in order to protect its sources.

There's also a new GPU that form part of the combined CPU/GPU system-on-a-chip (SoC). This is called SGX543RC*. The asterisk replaces a sensitive number that 9to5Mac claim could be used by Apple to identify the person who leaked the information.

No other details are given for either the CPU or GPU.

The problem with trying to read anything into part names -- even if they are correct -- is that history tells us that there's very little we can deduce about the underlying hardware from these letters and numbers.

For example, the iPhone 4 features a processor called the S5L8930. This was a single-core part clocked at around 750 MHz to 800 MHz. Compare this to the S5L8940 powering the iPhone 4S or the S5L8945 present in the iPad 3. These processor name suggests a modest upgrade, but the CPU in the iPhone 4S was a dual-core processor downlocked -- to conserve battery life -- to run at 800 MHz, while the iPad 3 had a dual-core CPU clocked at 1 GHz..

A far less modest upgrade than the name suggested.

The same is true for the GPU. The iPhone 4 had the PowerVR SGX535 which was a single-core graphics processor, while the iPhone 4S had the PowerVR SGX543MP2, which was a dual-core graphics processor. The iPad 3 is kitted out with a PowerVR SGX543MP4, which is a quad-core part.

Again, the part names suggested a minor upgrade, but the hardware itself was a significant upgrade indeed.

It's a shame that the final digit in the name of the GPU has been redacted, because it could give us a clue as to how many cores the new part sports.

Based on rumor and some guesswork, I expect that the iPhone 5 will feature a dual-core CPU, possibly clocked to 1 GHz, and an updated quad-core GPU powering the graphics. This should be more than enough of an upgrade to keep the iPhone ahead of the competition.

Image source: Apple.



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