Chipworks: Apple’s A7 Chip Made By Samsung, M7 Co-Processor By NXP

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Here’s a bit of supply chain nerdery for you on the iPhone 5s front. Teardown experts Chipworks have uncapped Apple’s A7 processor and discovered that it is indeed still made by Samsung.

There had been significant rumors before the release of the iPhone 5s that pointed to Apple shifting its SoC manufacturing to new supplier TSMC. Though that still may take place down the road, this particular chip is still made by enormous partner, and Apple rival, Samsung.

Chipworks on the discovery:

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. That being said, we suspect we will see Samsungs 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 S IV. Our engineers will be deprocessing the Apple A7 as soon as they can to confirm this or to provide different information.

The general logic behind Apple moving to another supplier like TSMC for future SoC production is that the company is looking to diversify its sourcing. So far, the majority of its silicon has been obtained via Samsung and Qualcomm. While Apple has no beef with Qualcomm, it has engaged in heated battles with Samsung’s smartphone arm over patent infringement. Samsung is an enormous company, and it has stated that this legal wrangling doesn’t affect its relationship with Apple as a supplier. But you know that tension has to sting a bit in negotiations.

In addition, diversification could allow Apple more leverage when negotiating prices for new components. An enormous portion of Samsung’s current silicon business is done via deals with Apple. It also sells a ton of chips to its own smartphone wing.

The Chipworks teardown also manages to uncover Apple’s M7 “motion co-processor,” as well, which turns out to be a chip made by NXP and not an Apple branded part at all. At least, not yet.

Luckily, we’ve been able to locate the M7 in the form the NXP LPC18A1. The LPC1800 series are high-performing Cortx-M3 based microcontrollers. This represents a big win for NXP. We had anticipated the M7 to be an NXP device based on input from industry analysts and our partners and we are happy to see this to be the case.

The M7 is dedicated to processing and translating the inputs provided to it by the discrete sensors; the gyroscope, accelerometer and electro magnetic compass mounted throughout the main printed circuit board.

The earlier iFixit teardown of the iPhone 5 had failed to uncover exactly what chip was taking on the role of Apple’s “M7″ marketing construct. This led to some confusion and speculation that the chip was in fact on the A7 die. But the Chipworks folks have confirmed that this is an external chip and that it will likely hook into a series of standard sensors from STMicroelectronics and AKM for compass, magnetometer and accelerometer duties.

Be sure to head over to Chipworks to take a look at the rest of the detailed breakdown if that’s your sort of bag.