Apple A11 Bionic: is It magic?

In September 2017, as usual, Apple has presented another system-on-chip, hopelessly losing in the war of specs inexplicably coming to the finish line first, leaving behind the winners in the war. Interesting style. The word “Bionic” in the name of SoC appeared for a reason. The crystal is now housed another processor, which Apple marketing called “neural engine” (Neural Engine) is based on neural network, which even 20 years ago, predicted a leading role in computing, and frees the CPU from worries about machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence in several subject areas. For third-party developers NPU was unavailable.

Group of machine learning and artificial intelligence Apple in 2016, is headed by Ruslan Salakhutdinov, comes from Russian Federation. One of the leading scientists in this challenging and promising field. The development of NPU (Neural Processing Unit neural processing unit) in the Apple began in 2014 or 2015. It is a joint development of the group of machine learning and artificial intelligence and microelectronics. In the second NPU performs 600 billion operation, and it was only the beginning.

Square crystal Apple A11 Bionic (of 87.7 mm2) almost half less than the area of Apple’s A10 Fusion (125,0 mm2). NPU takes on the crystal just to 1.83 mm2. Less than core “high performance” (of 2.68 mm2) and more than energy-saving core (0,53 mm2). And these runs of 1.83 mm2 to 600 billion operations per second?

This continuation of the series about the chips designed by Apple. Previous parts here.

The contents

Apple A11 Bionic and PoP

Apple Bionic A11 was produced by the technology of TSMC 10Nm FinFET (process CLN10FF), just on the chip was 4.3 billion transistors. The crystal was placed 6-core CPU, 3-core GPU own “Apple” of development, already mentioned NPU, the image processor (ISP), a new generation, coprocessor M11 and many other different interesting things. The “Secret Enclave” ensuring data security and integrity of the device. He also turns the phone into a brick, during a failed burglary.

SoC, along with memory (2 or 3 GB LPDDR4X in different devices), combined in a single package (PoP) technology TSMC InFO. Technology InFO for TSMC was the subject of well-deserved pride. Apple was very lucky with partners. LPDDR4X is a variant of LPDDR4 with a reduced two times the power consumption. Apple used memory chips from Samsung and Micron. Purchased iPhone with Apple A11 Bionic could be any of them. Lottery, this time a win-win. Problems with the memory chips was not.


The CPU consisted of two power cores Monsoon (“monsoon”) and four Mistral economical. All cores can work simultaneously. Apple has realized this is not the first in the industry, moreover, in 2017 the Fusion technology is already considered outdated, in all its forms, and her replacement was a new technology, DynamicIQ, only in the Department of microelectronics Apple rush is not loved, all carefully considering and assessing, in the end, applying the techniques trump the latest, but thoughtfully and with amazing results. So it was this time.

Clock frequency has been reliably determined only for kernels Monsoon. To 2.39 GHz under normal conditions. Adverse (when heated to a temperature close to dangerous) the clock frequency is decreased. The working clock frequency of the Mistral cores is not known. Found mention of 1.39 to 1.57 GHz and about almost certainly have nothing to do with reality. Officially, Apple reported productivity growth, compared with A10, 25% (Monsoon), 70% (Mistral). 70% increase in the effectiveness of the controller performance of the second generation. This controller has optimized the interaction of the nuclei among themselves, according to the results of smartphones using this SoC in benchmarks and tests from real life, he could do it well.


The graphics processor in the Apple A11 Bionic was his “Apple” design. 3-nuclear, 30% more productive than the GPU in Apple’s A10 Fusion. In A9 and A10, Department of microelectronics is increasingly made their changes to the graphics processor from PowerVR. In Apple’s A10 Fusion changes were already very serious. And then – done. In appearance, under the electron microscope, “Apple” GPU hardly differed from the previous ones. Experts even counted it 6 cores (of clusters, as they are called in PowerVR), but perhaps Apple has become to give someone else for her. And the owner – a gentleman. If the developer says GPU three kernels, hence three of them. Six cores would be more impressive, but it doesn’t matter.

The benefits of the GPU obvious: the graphics processor has been optimized to work with Metal 2. OpenCL and OpenGL are maintained at a decent level, though not the latest versions of them. Joyful media publications about the fact that Apple A11 Bionic yet found the reason, Apple has ignored. They had, as we now know, very different plans. 3-dimensional performance, gaming ability and other important for smart phone of the elite class, of course, was maintained.

Race and insights

In one of the articles compares Apple A11 Bionic with Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, first we compared the specifications of the participants of the match. For all the compared parameters was superior to the Snapdragon or Bionic’, or they were equal. More cores (8 vs 6), RAM the enemies LPDDR4X, but its Snapdragon controller 2-channel, more advanced DynamicIQ have Snapdragon instead of asymmetric Fusion at A11, and the result won Apple A11 Bionic, with a decent margin. In spite of everything.

The authors came to the conclusion that the race was unfair: the ARM core Corteх A75 used in Snapdragon 845 – universal, their effectiveness depends on the characteristics of the smartphone in which they are used. A11 Bionic and Apple specially designed for iPhone 8/8 Plus/X, and carefully optimized for them. Well – more transistors on a SoC, I would these arguments have added an Apple on the cover SoC. Because that’s the way it was intended.

And experts, assessing the state of Affairs in the CPU industry has come to the conclusion that in the victory of Apple is not surprising. Department of microelectronics Apple ahead of all competitors of the company, for at least two years. And that’s all. Well, not crooks?

To be continued, and while discussing the history of Apple you can in our Telegram chat.

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