Apple recently updated the 3rd generation Apple TV with a smaller A5 chip that is apparently still manufactured by Samsung. This is somewhat unordinary for Apple to make such a small update without adding any additional features. It was rumored that Apple was shifting away from Samsung and moving to TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) as a supplier for the new chip. However, after chip experts at Chipworks examined the chip they determined Samsung is still manufacturing the chip, but they speculate the new chip could be a pipe-cleaner for TSMC.
Is this new A5 a pipe-cleaner for TSMC in a lower volume (and risk) device? Is this new A5 a lower cost variant that we will see in new lower end phones from Apple? Is it a shrink from Samsung’s 32-nm process to their 28-nm? All were speculated upon, and this time around we can deny the first rumor by confirming that the chip has die markings consistent with the continued use of Samsung as the foundry partner. With respect to the second rumor, we can provide our $.02 that we do expect to see this chip in future Apple devices (such as a possible phone or iPod) because that behavior would be consistent with what they have done in the past. As for the die shrink, the math tells us that the size reduction is more than a simple shrink – some functionality has changed too. We’ll have to wait for the cross-section to see if it is fabbed on the smaller process.
The updated Apple TV remains the same size as the current model. The space saved by using the chip would not be a reason for Apple to switch to the new chip and the low volume of sales for Apple TV do not justify Apple making the new chip solely for Apple TV. Apple may have plans to use the smaller A5 chip in future products such as, a rumored low cost iPhone, a future iPad mini or iPod touch. Those devices would benefit for the space savings and Apple TV could be another way to test the chip before using it on a larger scale.