Apple first announced the A14 Bionic chip when it introduced the iPad Air in September. Now right in front of the company unveiled its iPhone 12 series which also includes the chip, Apple’s VP of platform architecture Tim Millet shared more insight into the chip’s design and the impressive performance they see, how Apple thinks about chip design for the future from iPhone to Mac and more.
Apple’s Tim Millet and Tom Boger, senior director of Mac and iPad product marketing for an interview with Engadget dive into the A14 Bionic chip. With the A14 as Apple’s first chip built on the 5nm process, it gets an impressive amount of transistors, 3 billion more than the A13. Engadget mentions how Apple has taken advantage of that promise:
In any case, the shift to 5 nm meant that Apple had far more transistors to dedicate to all the systems on the chip. Think: 11.8 billion kroner, up from 8.5 billion the company had to work with in last year’s A13 Bionic. As you’d expect, the huge increase in the number of transistors gave Apple the extra processing bits needed to build significantly faster, more efficient CPU and GPU cores. But it also gave Apple the breadth to make more subtle improvements to the device’s overall experience.
This is how Millet describes the ideas behind the chip design process:
“One of the ways chip architects think of features is not necessarily direct mapping [transistors] to a user function in the product as much as to enable the underlying technology, such as software in the graphics stack, to be able to utilize a new functionality in the GPU, ”said Millet. “It will inevitably come as a visual feature of a game, or as a snappy transition in the user interface.”
Another incredible leap in raw performance according to Apple is that the A14 Bionics Neural Engine can perform 11 trillion operations per second. It has almost doubled from 600 billion that the A13 can handle. It was activated by the redesign of the A14 Neural Engine, including 16 cores, up from 8 with the A13.
“We saw the opportunity to do things that would be impossible to do with a conventional CPU instruction set,” Millet said. “In theory, you can do many of the things Neural Engine does on a GPU, but you can’t do that inside a tight, thermally constrained enclosure.”
To further explain the decisions that went into the A14, Millet also commented that the chips work well across different devices.
“We try to focus on energy efficiency, because it applies to all the products we build,” said Millet. By making this a fundamental focus of chip designs, Apple does not have to worry about a situation where they “focused on energy efficiency for the phone [in a way] it will not work in an iPad Air. Of course it’s going to work. ”
On the iPad topic, Millet and Boger both emphasized that the iPad Pro with the A12Z has more CPU and GPU cores (8 of each) than the A14 (6 and 4, respectively), so it should still offer the best performance for things like graphics intense work. However, Boger said that some tasks will go faster on the new iPad Air with A14:
“Because the A14 has our latest generation CPU cores, you can see a few things here and there that the A14 could potentially surpass the A12Z in,” Boger noted.
While Apple said that the new iPad Airs A14 processor is up to 40% faster than the previous model (the A12 chip), and users would see a 30% gain in graphics performance, we have not heard how the A14 will compare directly with the A13. Millet and Borger did not tell Engadget either, but we should find out at the iPhone 12 event on 13 October.
With Apple Silicon expected to debut in the first Mac next month and Apple’s HomePod mini to be unveiled at the iPhone 12 event, which is expected to run on the Apple Watch S5 chip, Millet shared how Apple thinks about chip design for all its products:
“Finally, we want to make sure that when we build a CPU for a generation, we do not necessarily build it just for one,” he said. While that doesn’t mean you want to see the A14’s six-core CPU in something like an Apple Watch, the architecture developed for the company’s flagship phone set can be well customized and reused elsewhere. And as it turns out, we may not have to wait long to see a good example.
Engadget refers to an updated iPad Pro with an A14X, as well as the first Apple Silicon Mac to use the X variant of the A14 chip, as the company’s computers start the transition from Intel.
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