Apple’s new 10.5-inch iPad Pro and 12.9-inch iPad Pro features the ever new iteration in the design of Apple’s processor and GPU, packaged in the A10X SoC. Apple’s website touts 30%-40% performance improvements over the A9X, the last iPad chip.
TechInsights claims to have analyzed the chip and it has confirmed that the SoC is fabricated using a 10-nanometer process, while the A10 and A9X use 16mm processes. This consequences in a high-performance chip that is also a smallest iPad SoC die size to date.
Interestingly, Apple has adopted 10nm in this very generation, as the iPhone chips traditionally lead the way with new fab processes.
The A11 is expected to debut on a 10nm process in the newer future, in September this year for the next-generation iPhone, so it is jaw-dropping to see Apple break the pattern and push out the iPad chip first time at 10nm.
The shrink has consequenced in Apple’s smallest ever die size for its tablet SoCs; the A10X has measured at 96.4mm squared. AnandTech graphs the dramatic change as shown below:
Adopting new and smaller process nodes is somewhat risky as production problems cause yield issues that result in higher costs. Definitely, Apple is in a unique financial position to absorb costs and it can take more risky projects too. Despite the aggressive and jaw-dropping update of 10nm though, it seems the A10X is a conservative chip otherwise.
According to the floorplan photos, the design of the A10X is similar to the A9X. Apple has also upped CPU cores from 2 to 3 and has increased L2 Cache to 8MB, but it doesn’t seem there is any kind of major structural differences between the two generations. Apple has taken full advantage of the 10nm process by introducing reduced die size, which should minimize overall power consumption.
Seemingly, the A10X is using similar GPU cores to that of the A9X and A10. This means that Apple has not yet dropped its dependence on Imagination Technologies, which Apple has already announced it would do within the coming eighteen months. It will be really interesting to see if we witness that happening with the A11 and the iPhone 8; if not with A11, it is almost definitely happening with the next Apple chip revisions in 2018.