It's hard not to be impressed by the A6 engine in the new iPhone 5, since it's now proven to deliver a double-shot of great performance and class-leading battery life. But silicon stories like that don't happen over night or even over the course of a year -- in fact, analyst Linley Gwennap has traced the origins of the A6 all the way back to 2008, when Steve Jobs purchased processor design company P.A. Semi and set one of its teams to work on creating something "insanely great" for mobile devices.
Although Apple is steadfastly secretive about its components, Gwennap's history of the A6 (linked below) is both plausible and a straight-up good read for anyone interested in the more fundamental aspects of their gadgets. Whereas the A5 processor stuck closely to ARM's Cortex-A9 design, Gwennap is convinced -- just like Anandtech is --that the A6 treads a very different path: it's still based on ARM's architecture and it's likely fabricated by Samsung using a cutting-edge 32nm process, but it's an in-house vision of what a mobile chip should be. It's the culmination of four years of hard work and perhaps half a billion dollars of investment.
That's not to say it's the most powerful chip out there, or even the chip most tailored to its host device -- after all, Samsung also designs great chips for some of its own smartphones. Indeed, Gwennap says that the A6 is probably a dual-core processor that is no more complex than Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 (let alone the S4 Pro) or the forthcoming generation of Cortex-A15 chips, while its clock speed could be as low as 1.2GHz -- versus a 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos in the Note II and even a 2GHz Intel chip in Motorola's new RAZR i. However, Gwennap predicted that even if the A6 falls short of its rivals "in raw CPU performance," it'd make up for it in terms of low power consumption -- which is precisely what we've confirmed in our review.