iPhone 3G S: First peek under the hood

The 3G S sports a 600MHz Samsung processor based on the ARM Cortex 8 design and integrates a PowerVR SGX graphics chip.

Updated on June 19 at 12:15 p.m. PDT: adding Apple processor discussion in addition to earlier iFixit photo update.

What makes the iPhone 3G S tick, and why is it the "fastest iPhone ever"? Rapid Repair and iFixit tear down the iPhone in Paris and London, respectively, providing some clues.

First, a quick glance at Apple's claims for the iPhone 3G S. The ad copy on Apple's Web site claims that it launches applications faster and that Web pages "render in a fraction of the time." Apple doesn't stop there: "Improved performance and updated 3D graphics deliver an incredible gaming experience, too," according to Apple.

Apple iPhone 3G S disassembled
Apple iPhone 3G S disassembled Rapid Repair

Rapid Repair said Thursday night that the 3G S uses a 600MHz Samsung processor based on the ARM Cortex A8 design. The iPhone also integrates a PowerVR SGX graphics chip from Imagination Technologies, according to Rapid Repair.

This, not surprisingly, beats the iPhone 3G (sans "S"), which uses an older ARM design--that runs at about 400MHz--and a prior-generation graphics chip.

The iFixit team also has done a teardown of the iPhone 3G S, with further analysis to follow.

Though the markings on the main Apple processor do not readily identify the chip, both Rapid Repair and iFixit say it is the Samsung S5PC100. Both sites confirmed this in response to e-mail queries.

The "Samsung ARM Cortex A8-based S5PC100 Mobile Application Processor...adopts a 32-bit ARM Cortex A8 RISC microprocessor and a 64/32-bit internal bus architecture, and operates up to 833MHz," according to documentation on Samsung's site.

The chip is also capable of high-definition (HD) 720p video, Samsung states.

iPhone 3G S main circuit board iPhone 3G S main circuit board with Apple-branded processor
iPhone 3G S main circuit board with Apple-branded processor iFixit

CNET Reviews has validated Apple's speed claims, saying "for most native applications that don't depend on a cellular or Wi-Fi connection, the iPhone 3G S was consistently faster."

The review continues: "The iPhone 3G S opened the iPod player almost 5 seconds faster, and it was much quicker at loading some notoriously slow apps. For example, Bejewled 2, which can take up to 12 seconds to load on the iPhone 3G, started in just 5 seconds on the 3G S."

And: "The iPhone 3G S also started up much quicker than the iPhone 3G--we were up and running in 26 seconds instead of 50 seconds."

The Palm Pre also uses a Cortex A8 application processor from ARM and the PowerVR SGX graphics from Imagination.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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