Is ARM The Brains Behind Apple’s iPad CPU?

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Apple said it created its own CPU to power the newly launched iPad, but rumours say it uses a core from UK-based ARM Holdings

The launch of Apple’s iPad device has triggered a new set of intriguing rumours. Apple said it created its own CPU to power the device, but there is speculation that British chip-maker ARM Holidings is the brains behind the hi-tech chip.

The Apple iPad is powered by a high-performance, low-power Apple CPU, which has been dubbed the Apple A4.

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During his keynote speech, Steve Jobs said the A4 chip was clocked at a 1GHz and that it is a system-on-a-chip, i.e. it combines a CPU (central processing unit) with a GPU (graphic processing unit), as well as a I/O and memory controller. A picture of the chip has be found of the iFixit blog located here.

It identified that the A4 chip has four digits, which indicate a manufacturing date of “Week 40 of 2009,” which translates to the end of September and early October last year.

Although Apple has not confirmed it, there is speculation that the A4 uses an ARM core.

Apple has previously made its intention clear to make its own chips when it acquired PA Semi in April 2008, which specialised in sophisticated but low power chips. PA Semi licensed much of its intellectual property from UK-based ARM Holdings, which designs microprocessors and sells the intellectual property to developers.

Indeed, ARM chips appear in most mobile devices today and many feel it is unlikely that Apple has invented something completely new with the A4. The iPhone for example uses an ARM CPU.

“It appears that (the processor) has been designed by the PA Semi team which Apple acquired and it is extremely likely it is ARM based, like the processor in the iPhone,” said analyst Nick James of stockbroker Panmure Gordan, quoted on Sky News Online.

Indeed, Bright Side of News suggests it is ARM’s Cortex-A9 MPCore. Meanwhile Chris Dannen wrote on BNET UK that Apple’s iPad price and features say ARM all over.

ARM however remains reticent to confirm or deny the rumours. “I think that’s really up to Apple to disclose,” Ian Drew, executive VP of marketing of ARM, speaking to Sky News Online. “The rise of mobile internet has been very good for us. We do the core design for 90 percent mobile phones in the world, but it’s not just about phones – our chips also go into cars, printers and TV set top-boxes for example”.

If the rumours prove to be true, it will come as something of a blow for Intel, which reportedly had been trying to convince Apple to opt for its low power Atom chipset.