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iPhone 3G S teardown reveals 3x speed boost

Apple maxed out design due to heat, not battery life, says Rapid Repair (image below)

June 19, 2009 01:27 PM ET

Computerworld - The iPhone 3G S' hardware, including a faster microprocessor and a faster graphics processor than those in last year's model, supports Apple's claims that the new device is two to three times faster overall, a just-completed teardown shows.

According to Aaron Vronko, the CEO of Michigan-based Rapid Repair, the iPhone 3G S sports an ARM Cortex A8 microprocessor running at 600 MHz. Last year's iPhone 3G, by comparison, sports an ARM 11 running at 412 MHz.

"One of the two most significant changes in the iPhone 3G S was to what's called the Mobile Application Processor, the Samsung 'system-on-a-chip'," said Vronko, who flew to France to be one of the first to purchase the new iPhone. Vronko then took the phone to BricoMac, a Paris repair company, to disassemble the device.

Vronko has posted a step-by-step teardown, complete with photos, to the Rapid Repair site. As its name suggests, Rapid Repair is a repair shop and parts supplier for iPods, iPhones, Zunes and other consumer electronics.

The processor in the Samsung package boasts a new and improved ARM architecture, said Vronko, that in and of itself is almost twice as efficient at the same clock speeds as what Apple stuck in the iPhone 3G. "It's the latest ARM design," said Vronko, "running here at 600MHz. But with the faster clock speed, 50% or so faster than last year, the result is that Apple's upgraded the iPhone 3G S 2.5 to 3 times in processing capability."

When Apple unveiled the iPhone 3G S last week, the company bragged about its performance, saying that the "S" stood for "speed," and that the new model was "up to 2x faster and more responsive than iPhone 3G."

Vronko's teardown not only bears that out, but shows that Apple could have amped up the iPhone 3G S even more. "The new ARM architecture supports designs up to 833MHz," said Vronko, then cited three reasons why he thinks Apple didn't push the envelope further.

"First, it didn't need to, since the 2.5 to 3 times faster processing is more than enough to handle current apps," Vronko said. "Second, the more you amp it up, the more heat, and the current design lacks any efficient means of heat diffusion. Third, upping the clock speed uses more power."

Because of the heat issue, Vronko believes that Apple has reached the performance limit with its current iPhone design. "I don't think they'll increase [performance] much until another design comes out," he said.

The other major change to the iPhone with the 3G S is a more capable graphics processor. While last year's GPU (graphics processor unit) was the Imagination Technologies' PowerVR MBX-Lite, this time Apple used that company's PowerVR SGX. The biggest boon, said Vronko: 3D graphics rendering.

"Not only is this a faster GPU, but there's hardware in the GPU that the old one didn't have," said Vronko, "including 720p video native support, so they can support 3D rendering. The old GPU could do some basic rendering, but now you have a much more robust rendering capability that can support a real mobile gaming platform." It also means that the iPhone 3G S could be the gateway to a HD media platform in the near future.

iPhone 3G S teardown reveals 3x speed boost
iPhone 3G S sports an ARM Cortex A8 microprocessor running at 600 MHz, while the older iPhone 3G (right) sports an ARM 11 running at 412 MHz.
Click to view larger image


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