No, Apple Hasn't Hooked Up With Taiwan Semiconductor... Yet

Last weekend, the Apple enthusiasts over at MacRumors tore open one of the new Apple TV units, which has recently received a quiet and slight internal upgrade. What they found inside was an A5 processor similar to the predecessor, except that it was significantly smaller.

That fact led to some speculation that perhaps Apple had at long last begun its transition away from Samsung as a foundry partner and perhaps got together with Taiwan Semiconductor and used its 28-nanometer manufacturing process. I had previously mentioned that definitive confirmation for or against this theory would have to await analysis from "specialists like Chipworks." Never one to pass up a good silicon-identification challenge, Chipworks has stepped up to the task.

Die size comparison using the polysilicon from the prior gen A5 (left) with the top metal from the current gen A5. Source: Chipworks.

Sadly, there were no markings to indicate that the shrunken A5 hailed from Taiwan Semiconductor's plants. In fact, the evidence points toward Apple's continued use of Samsung's 32-nanometer process, meaning there was no change in the process. Instead, the reduced size was attributable to a new design instead of a process shrink.

Previous generations had a dual-core A5 recycled from other devices but simply had one core disabled, but Apple has now removed the unused core altogether, among other changes. That helped get the overall size down.

Another notable change is the addition of a newer Broadcom Wi-Fi combo chip. The chip is the BCM4334, an upgrade from the BCM4330 used in the last generation model. That change has allowed Apple to simplify the design into a one-antenna solution as opposed to the previous two antennas that were used. This arrangement is essentially how Apple now implements short-range radio transmissions in all of its latest iDevices, including the iPhone 5.

For now, Apple's still sticking with Samsung.

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Fool contributor Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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