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Evidence of Apple chip design change in iPad teardown

Apple has made some pretty significant changes to the new iPad's chip compared to the iPad 2.

Apple needs some serious silicon to drive that gorgeous, pixel-dense display.
Apple needs some serious silicon to drive that gorgeous, pixel-dense display.

Apple has changed the design of the main chip in the new iPad with tweaks to accommodate a higher-performing chip, according to teardown analysis. That would be necessary, of course, to drive that pixel-dense screen.

There are two significant changes:

  • Separate DRAM: Apple's A5X chip package does not "stack" system memory (aka, SDRAM), like the A5 did in the iPad 2, as seen in an analysis by Chipworks. Instead, the DRAM resides in "discrete" devices, according to Anandtech. And note that the new iPad has 1GB of memory. The iPad 2 had half that much.
  • Heat spreader: The new A5X chip is capped by a metal heatspreader, as pointed out by Anandtech, which speculates that a new package would "allow for better removal of heat." That implies higher performance. A faster chip typically runs hotter.

VR-Zone ventures the guess that "we're looking at a larger chip and it's obviously running a fair bit hotter than the [previous] A5."

To be sure, Apple squeezes a whole lot of horsepower into a 9.4mm thick tablet: the A5X has a dual-core CPU (central processing unit) and a quad-core GPU (graphics processing unit). All completely necessary to drive the 2,048x1,536 Retina display.

iPad's A5X chip and main circuit board.
iPad's A5X chip and main circuit board. iFixit

And there really isn't any tablet out there right now that competes with the new iPad on the display and graphics chip fronts, Anandtech's Anand Shimpi told CNET.

"In terms of GPU performance...the 543MP4 should be the fastest thing out there," Shimpi said, referring to the PowerVR SGX 543MP4 GPU that Apple uses.

Of course, consumers will only notice that gorgeous display but it's nice to know that Apple has also designed some pretty stellar silicon to move around the millions of pixels packed into the Retina display.

Updated at 1:15 a.m. PDT: throughout.