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Apple's A7 chip: Small space, plenty of power

The A7 processor in Apple's iPhone 5S is twice as powerful as the A6. An iFixit teardown explains one reason why.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
An inside view of the A7 processor.
An inside view of the A7 processor. Chipworks and iFixit

What's behind the power of the new A7 chip in Apple's iPhone 5S? A peek inside its electronic innards courtesy of iFixit reveals one secret.

Unveiling the results of its A7 teardown on Tuesday, iFixit got the inside scoop on the chip thanks to some electron microscope scanning from Chipworks. The teardown uncovered more than 1 billion transistors built into the processor.

But even further, Chipworks found that the transistors are more tightly packed. The distance between each transistor in the A7 is 114 nanometers, an advancement over the A6's 123 nanometer gap. The improvement is possible because of Apple's switch to a 28-nanometer manufacturing process from the previous 32-nanometer technology. The smaller nanometer process allows more transistors to be squeezed into the same area.

Of course, the A7 is also bigger than the A6, giving it an additional boost in performance.

"So what does that translate to," iFixit asked? "Applying some mathematrickery (28^2 divided by 32^2 = 784/1024), this seemingly small change equates to having the same computing power, but in 77 percent of the original area. And given that the A7 processor is larger in area than the A6, that means even more processing power to lead a healthy, smartphone-laden lifestyle."