Apple A5 chip -- what we know and what we guess

Just like the original iPad debuted with an Apple A4 chip, iPad 2 is coming with an Apple A5 chip. What does that mean? In typical fashion Apple has been short on details saying only that it's dual-core, 1GHz, 2x faster for computational tasks and 9x faster for graphics, all while preserving the 10 hour battery life that made the A4 famous. They don't think we need to worry about what CPU or GPU they're using and how much RAM is on board to let that power breathe. But here's the thing -- many of us want to know exactly that.

This is the chip that will also power the 2011 iPhone 5, iPod touch 5, and Apple TV. We want answers. We can handle answers! So... stick with us after the break for everything we know about the new Apple A5 chip... and what we can guess.

CPU

Here's what Apple has to say about the new dual-core CPU:

Two powerful cores in one A5 chip mean iPad can do twice the work at once. You’ll notice the difference when you’re surfing the web, watching movies, making FaceTime video calls, gaming, and going from app to app to app. Multitasking is smoother, apps load faster, and everything just works better.

iPad, like all iOS devices is ARM-based. The original iPad used a single core Cortex A8 processor sped up to 1GHz, presumably by the geniuses at Intrisity -- a company Apple subsequently acquired. Apple is still a massive ARM licensee and the successor to the Cortex A8 is the multicore Cortex A9. This chip is forming the heart iPad competitors and it makes sense that Apple is using it in iPad 2 as well.

The Cortex A9 can scale upwards of 2GHz and while some may be disappointed Apple is sticking to 1GHz for iPad 2 there are always trade offs to be made, including temperature and most importantly -- battery life. If 2 times 1GHz cores are enough to give Apple the performance they want, the flexibility to do things like driving the iPad with one core and the HDMI-out display mirroring with the other, and keep 10 hours of battery life, that's a huge win.

UPDATE: It could also be dual ARM Cortex A8 cores

GPU

And here's Apple on their new graphics performance:

With up to nine times the graphics performance, gameplay on iPad is even smoother and more realistic. And faster graphics help apps perform better — especially those with video. You’ll see it when you’re scrolling through your photo library, editing video with iMovie, and viewing animations in Keynote.

Apple has been using Imagination's PowerVR GPU's in iOS and since they own a stake in the company that's also unlikely to change. The latest generation PowerVR SGX543 is a likely candidate here, perhaps dual core as well. Apple is not only pushing tons of pixels for video and gaming on-device, but offering up to 1080p out as well. 9x graphics performance is a big claim, but this chip with its OpenGL 3.2 support is big enough to match it.

It will also be interesting to see if Apple is using their own OpenCL in A5, which lets the GPU help out the CPU when it's not otherwise engaged.

RAM

Apple doesn't talk about RAM in iOS devices. Not ever. The original iPad had an anemic 256 MB of RAM. That wasn't even enough to keep a few Safari pages in memory. iPhone 4 has 512 MB and wild internet rumors aside, that's the minimum we should see in iPad 2.

Competing tablets are going to ship with 1GB of RAM and it would be great to see Apple match that but given the economics of hitting a $499 price point, they'll try to get the most performance they can out of the least hardware they can so I'm not getting my hopes up.

Battery life

Hey, it's still phenomenal:

Even with the new thinner and lighter design, iPad has the same amazing 10-hour battery life.1 That’s enough juice for one flight across the ocean, or one movie-watching all-nighter, or a week’s commute across town. The power-efficient A5 chip and iOS keep battery life from fading away, so you can get carried away.

And Apple's making it a huge priority, which again means balancing out multiple cores, cycles, and memory with power efficiency.

The tear-down will tell

Apple won't be talking about A5 in detail any time soon, so we'll have to wait for March 11 and the iPad 2 to ship before it gets torn down and we find out for sure. Until then, those are my best guesses. What are yours?