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Iphone Cellphones Hardware

Not All iPhone 6s Processors Are Created Equal (itworld.com) 262

itwbennett writes: Apple is splitting the manufacture of the A9 processor for its iPhone 6s between TSMC (~60%) and rival Samsung (~40%) — "and they are not created equal," writes Andy Patrizio. For starters, Chipworks noted that Samsung uses 14nm while TSMC uses 16nm. A Reddit user posted tests of a pair of 6s Plus phones and found the TSMC chip had eight hours of battery life vs. six hours for the Samsung. Meanwhile, benchmark tests from the folks at MyDriver (if Mr. Patrizio's efforts with Google Translate got it right) also found that the Samsung chip is a bigger drain on the phone's battery, while the TSMC chip is slightly faster and runs a bit cooler. So how do you know which chip you got? There's an app for that.
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Not All iPhone 6s Processors Are Created Equal

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  • by akahige ( 622549 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @11:54AM (#50686571)
    More to the point, how can you find out which chip the phone has before buying it?
    • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @11:57AM (#50686625)

      Simple: don't buy it at all. If a company is going to play shenanigans like this where products marketed with the exact same name and part number are significantly different and it's just a luck-of-the-draw ass to whether I get the good one or the crappy one, I'm just not going to buy their product at all.

      • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @12:23PM (#50686847)

        Simple: don't buy it at all. If a company is going to play shenanigans like this where products marketed with the exact same name and part number are significantly different and it's just a luck-of-the-draw ass to whether I get the good one or the crappy one, I'm just not going to buy their product at all.

        Play shenanigans? That pre-supposes that somewhere at Apple, Tim Cook and company are laughing at their customers because they fell for their secret, master plan of causing Apple bad PR and headaches. Maybe in the real world, Apple, like many companies, have to source parts from multiple suppliers for practical reasons like: redundancy and demand. Certainly Apple isn't the first and the last company to run into problems when their part which should be identical has differences because of which plant made them.

        • For every phone design they run a competition among vendors for key parts that need to be custom for their plan. As their success has increased it has become clear that this model has issues. Reserving half your fab capacity for Apple in case of a design win is VERY expensive, and losing has crippled a couple of their suppliers. Similarly winning comes with the need to do a MASSIVE product ramp. As a result they have had to come up with new internal tactics to keep key suppliers from going under if they

      • But who is playing shenanigans Samsung or Apple.
        Did Apple Spec out the correct specs to Samsung and they made a cheap knockoff, after sending a batch that seems to meet initial QA, in a very German style. Or did Apple know about/agree to giving different quality products.

        • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @12:31PM (#50686915)

          Did Apple Spec out the correct specs to Samsung and they made a cheap knockoff, after sending a batch that seems to meet initial QA, in a very German style. Or did Apple know about/agree to giving different quality products.

          There are both done on slightly different processes and it seems there is a difference that should not be there. It may be that somewhere in the Samsung process (masking, lithography, etc), a difference is significant enough to cause this battery issue. Or that something about Apple's design (or chip design in general) is affected by the step down to 14nm that isn't noticeable in 16nm. Remember that chip features are starting approaching the limits where problems occur that require design changes like multi-gate [wikipedia.org] which did not occur at larger feature sizes.

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Thursday October 08, 2015 @01:28PM (#50687405) Homepage

            Yep, it's most likely a problem with the design. Shrinking from 16nm to 14nm isn't simply a case of scaling your design files by 87.5%, you have to make separate ones. You can carry over most of the high level design and layout, but the computer has to re-synthesise the detailed transistor structure, you might have to use different cache memory, different power and voltage management devices etc. 14nm is a different process, it's not just a slightly better focus on a lens or something.

            So the two were never going to be exactly the same, and chances are it's just that the 16nm design is a bit better optimized. Could be that it makes better use of the materials used, could be that the computer did a better job on synthesis, could be a number of things. I really doubt that Samsung sabotaged it though.

        • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwater@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Thursday October 08, 2015 @01:45PM (#50687577) Homepage

          But who is playing shenanigans Samsung or Apple.
          Did Apple Spec out the correct specs to Samsung and they made a cheap knockoff, after sending a batch that seems to meet initial QA, in a very German style. Or did Apple know about/agree to giving different quality products.

          There's a third possibility that should not be discounted out of hand - Samsung meets the specification, while TSMC exceeds it. Without access to internal information, it's hard to tell what's going on behind the curtain and all too easy to leap on the 'obvious' conspiracy.

          Of course, the various mega corps routinely indulge in behavior that makes conspiracy theories not all that far fetched...

      • The only fucking reason AMD exists is because IBM mandated vendor plurality when they were creating the first IBM PC.

    • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @12:29PM (#50686899)

      As more data is coming to light, it's sounding like the differences are smaller than first estimated and were likely exaggerated as a result of synthetic benchmarks not accurately modeling real-world performance. Specifically, while it does sound like TSMC's chips are performing far better than Samsung's in the synthetic benchmarks (e.g. Geekbench's battery tests), MacRumors has some followup on the topic [macrumors.com], indicating that in the real world tests that are ongoing, the results so far appear to be much closer between the two models.

      It sounds like the synthetic benchmarks may be slamming a part of the processor that TSMC has optimized better than Samsung, but that in real-world performance, that part is used far less frequently than in the synthetic benchmark, meaning that the results from the synthetic benchmark may not accurately model real-world performance.

      • a shame I ran out of mod points. This makes rather more sense than the alarmist story...

      • How this blew up into such a shitstorm from a single test involving just two devices is beyond me. It's a bit like taking a single person at random from Country A and a single person at random from Country B and then declaring the winner of a single race as proof positive that the entire country is better at running. I realize it's Apple and that means even minor things are fucking magical and revolutionary or complete catastrophes, but this is a new low.

        Even if the processors were all from the same comp
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        The MacRumors tests are less realistic than the Geekbench tests. MacRumors ran videos, which are mostly decided by the GPU and fetched by the WiFi or cellular modems. The CPU does very little when playing YouTube videos.

        The Geekbench tests are a mix of different real world activities, like browsing, games and app use. Unless all you do is watch YouTube on a tiny screen for hours on end Geekbench is the more realistic test.

        • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @01:47PM (#50687589)

          MacRumors didn't do any testing at all. They're just compiling lists of tests that others are doing, in an effort to get a sense for whether or not there actually are large differences. And the A9 chips being provided by Samsung and TSMC are SoCs, not just CPUs, so it makes perfect sense that they'd be running benchmarks that include video processing and other non-CPU-bound tasks, given that the A9 is responsible for those as well.

          Moreover, given the variance in performance that can occur within chips from even a single manufacturer, it's no surprise that there will be variation between the two models. If there weren't, it would be a news story. As such, the important questions to ask are:
          1) Is the difference between the two broadly reproducible (i.e. is Samsung consistently behind), or is it this just an anecdotal case involving a single low-performing Samsung chip being compared to a single high-performing TSMC chip?

          2) Given the variation, do either of them fall below the specs provided by Apple?

          We don't have enough data yet to answer #1, but, again, as more data is coming to light, it's sounding like things are not so lopsided as the initial reports indicated. TSMC may have a slight edge, but it's not anywhere in the ballpark of what was being reported earlier. As for #2, by all indications, the answer is "no, neither of them fall below Apple specs". Which is to say, some people may win out on the luck of the draw and get a phone with a chip that performs better...which was already the case anyway, since chips are never perfectly identical in their performance. All a manufacturer will do is guarantee that the performance falls within a certain range, so some will always perform better than others, even when built using the same process from the same manufacturer.

  • Eight and six hours (respectively) battery life is not very impressive... is that because they measured battery life through some standard benchmark? I've got a 4s that can still pull off a 16 hour day if I'm careful with my screen time.

    • Re:Battery Life (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TWX ( 665546 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @12:00PM (#50686651)
      I've found that battery life on standby is very much dependent on carrier accessibility. My employer's campus has a power distribution station on the East side and is ringed on the North, South, and West sides by power lines that reach the station. We get very poor signal strength and my old Galaxy SII is lucky to survive the eight hour shift on battery if I'm at the office all day, even on standby.

      Contrast to at home, where that city mandated all infrastructure be buried, and the power lines are only for neighborhood final distribution as opposed to regional distribution, and my phone can go a whole weekend on standby.
      • Re:Battery Life (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 08, 2015 @12:13PM (#50686759)

        Power lines cause very little interference to cell phones. It is very likely your office has eco-friendly windows. They have a very thin metal coating which greatly attenuates the signal. It is the same at my company. A part of our bulding recently had new windows (and some other eco-tweaks) installed and the signal there is almost gone, returning to almost full strength when the window is opened.

        • by TWX ( 665546 )
          I have no windows at all. Relatively secured buildings generally don't get windows.
      • Had the same issue. At home I have next to no signal for 200 meters around my apartment.

        I switched to the iOS 9 beta in August to finally get wifi calling on AT&T and my battery life at home jumped up massively.

        Not spending 8 hours trying to reconnect to nothing helped a lot.

      • by alvieboy ( 61292 )

        and my phone can go a whole weekend on standby.

        What have your turned on ? My Lenovo A840+ (Android 4.2.2, Octa-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A7) can withstand almost three weeks (weeks, not days) in standby when with good cell reception but with wifi and data connection off. I only start worrying about charging it (I mean, charge it on the same day, not immediatly) when it reaches about 8% battery.

        Alvie

    • Re:Battery Life (Score:4, Informative)

      by ledow ( 319597 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @12:14PM (#50686769) Homepage

      I charged my Samsung (non-i) phone once this week.

      And that was only because it dipped below 30%.

      Admittedly it's not calling 24 hours a day, but it's on 4G all the time and has modern smartphone capabilities.

      16 hours battery life? That's pathetic. Really?

      The one thing I have to hand to iPads is that they last a long time on battery. But 16 hours? That's just the perfectly ANNOYING level of battery life. Not enough to survive a day.

      • I'm not defending 16 hours as great battery time... but you may have missed the part where I said "4s". When new, it would run for several days, but I hammer on it pretty hard (pandora streaming + bluetooth headphones), Youtube videos, etc., mostly over 3g (no wi-fi at work) and it's showing it's age.

      • Really? My friend can't make it through half a day without running to charge her Galaxy S5, whereas I get 12 hours of actually tapping on my screen on my iPhone 6.

        My anecdote is at least as good as yours.

        The 6 and 8 hour values are through synthetic benchmarks that purposely stress the processor and display things on the screen non-stop. I've never gotten as little as 8 hours from my phone, even on a day where I all I do is play games and load webpages. Apple's devices generally get about 10 hours of usable

    • Correct, they were being run through a variety of synthetic benchmarks and taxing real-world scenarios (e.g. streaming online video for hours at full brightness). From what I've heard, there was a pretty significant jump in the battery life for the 6-series phones and beyond, though I'm still using an older 5s model that can get through 2-3 days without a charge under typical (admittedly light, in my case) use.

  • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @11:56AM (#50686611) Journal

    http://www.macrumors.com/2015/... [macrumors.com]

    As suspected from early results yesterday, the takeaway from Morrison and Evans' videos today seems to be that while intense cases like synthetic Geekbench tests designed to push devices to their limits can reveal significant differences in battery life between devices using the two chips, real-world impacts are much smaller and are likely to be unnoticeable to many users.

  • by Hougaard ( 163563 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @11:59AM (#50686629) Homepage Journal

    If we can't beat them, at least we can loose our semiconductor business ?

    • Samsung this week posted their first profit growth since 2013, and it wasn't because their phones were selling better. It was because their chips were selling better. In other words, yup, that's exactly it.

  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @12:00PM (#50686645) Homepage
    My friend and I both got iPhone 6s. His run hot, mine run cool. Go figure.
    • It's quite impressive you both run exactly the same software with exactly the same background/location/notification settings... do you get together once or twice a day to make sure you have identical settings?

      • by creimer ( 824291 )
        Uh, no. We're exact opposites. I got 16GB, he got 128GB. I got rose gold, he got space grey. I got a dozen apps, he got 3,000+ apps.
        • So he has 3000+ apps, some of which are in background, and it's a mystery why his runs hotter?

          Come on.

          • It's probably not much of a factor. iOS apps are aggressively throttled in the background. Facebook plays all sorts of dirty tricks to keep running (apparently like trying to pretend it's an audio app, I've heard?) but otherwise, most apps happily accept the kill signal and take up no additional CPU time.

  • One no sim?? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 08, 2015 @12:01PM (#50686663)

    How come

    On the chinese test, the Samsung has an extra app installed on it (see the screen of the doc).
    And on the Reddit users test, the TSMC has a sim card installed, the Samsung not.

    Really would it have killed them to keep the same spec for each?

    • I wish I could up-mod but this is very important.

      If both phones are using different parts of the hardware, for instance if the Samsung is connected to an 802.11 ac network while the TSMC is only connected to LTE, then the Samsung might be using more power.

      The phones should be compared in Airplane mode.
  • 16 nm vs 14 nm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chris200x9 ( 2591231 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @12:02PM (#50686677)
    It's kind of interesting the CPU built on a larger process is faster, cooler, and has less power draw.
    • Re:16 nm vs 14 nm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @12:46PM (#50687035) Journal
      I'm not particularly familiar with either company's process, but it's been a couple of generations since you could actually make meaningful comparisons based on the quoted nm size, because everyone has different smallest features that they measure when deciding that they are Xnm. That said, we passed the end of Dennard scaling a long time ago. You'd expect the same chip to be consuming about as much power, be slightly more able to dissipate the heat. It may also have less leakage, though that depends on a number of other factors.
    • At increasingly smaller sizes, there's something called the short-channel effect or leakage because the size of each gate is starting to be affected by atomic forces not shown in larger gates. It's why chip companies are employing multi-gate [wikipedia.org] devices like FinFET.

      Planar transistors have been the core of integrated circuits for several decades, during which the size of the individual transistors has steadily decreased. As the size decreases, planar transistors increasingly suffer from the undesirable short-channel effect, especially "off-state" leakage current, which increases the idle power required by the device.

      The reason companies are pushing for smaller size is economics. Reducing the feature size allows for more chips to be made from a single wafer. The move from 20nm to 16nm is about 15% more from what I remember.

    • What companies choose to label their process is largely up to them and has almost no real bearing on the performance relative to other similar process nodes. From what I've read, it sounds like TSMC has significantly better yields on their process so they can be a lot more aggressive with their binning whereas Samsung likely needs to hand over anything that meets the minimum specifications to meet their shipment quotas and obligations.

      What this means in the real world is that you're a lot more likely to
    • The fact that one process is called 16nm and one is called 14nm tells you almost nothing about the relative sizes of equivalent features.

      These days, a process is called "14nm" because the previous one was called "20nm" and the next is going to be called "10nm".

      • The fact that one process is called 16nm and one is called 14nm tells you almost nothing about the relative sizes of equivalent features.

        Um, yes it does. 14nm is the smallest size possible that can be reliably produced by the process. It does not say that ALL features are 14nm. Where possible, the feature will be 14nm, but not all of them will be for practical reasons.

        These days, a process is called "14nm" because the previous one was called "20nm" and the next is going to be called "10nm".

        You seem to imply that die shrink is completely fictitious because of naming.

    • by robi5 ( 1261542 )

      This. How can this ever happen. Also, the battery rundown difference is very large for this half pitch difference, unless the battery test switches off everything else like the screen and wifi, or there are other big process differences.

  • There really hasn't been a significant enough test on these chips yet to say for sure that the Samsung product is inferior. Lets wait until the phones are out in the wild for a few months and heavily benchmarked. Or maybe TSMC is a secret subsidiary of VW...
  • Samples sizes of 1 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by radarskiy ( 2874255 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @01:17PM (#50687287)

    "tests of a pair of 6s Plus phones"

    You can't argue with the statistical validity of that analysis... because there isn't any.

  • C'mon folks, you're missing a grand opportunity for a conspiracy theory! Taking it one way, Apple could've used this as a way to defame Samsung for providing less capable parts... Or going the other way, Samsung could be trying to make the 6s look bad by messing with the experience.
    • Well that conspiracy theory relies on the both parties not concerned with self-interest. Sure, Apple gets a chance to defame Samsung, but Apple has to deal with angry customers wanting brand new phones, not Samsung. At best Samsung will have to supply more chips while Apple gets a black eye from customer. Sure Samsung can stick it to customer. A customer that buys millions of chips from them a year. But other customers (and potential customers) of Samsung are not very willing to applaud this behavior as

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