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Apple iPhone 6S battery life may be better if its uses TSMC A9 SoC

by Mark Tyson on 8 October 2015, 11:01

Tags: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), ARM, TSMC, Samsung (005935.KS)

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Shortly after the launch of the Apple iPhone 6S and 6S Plus it was discovered that Apple was dual-sourcing the A9 processor, probably due to the sheer amount of processors required to meet expected demand. Apple was using TSCM to provide A9 chips, built on its 16nm process, and Samsung to produce A9 chips using its 14nm process. According to MacRumours the distribution of TSMC and Samsung chips among the new Apple smartphones is approximately 50:50.

Initial investigations suggested that both makes of A9 chip performed pretty similarly with no significant differences in the speeds of operations when the chips are tasked. However news has been emerging that the choice of A9 chip can have a significant impact on the battery life offered by your shiny new Apple iPhone 6S or 6S Plus. With the non-user changeable battery favoured by Apple, having a decent battery life using the supplied built-in battery is pretty important. People are spending up to £789 on these pocket gadgets.

In a battery life test comparing the TSMC and Samsung A9 chip powered Apple iPhone 6s Plus variants the results below were shared by a Reddit poster. MacRumours notes similar other independent findings via its own forums and the Chinese MyDrivers site. Users also found that the Samsung chip ran noticeably hotter – suggesting wasted energy.

It must be remembered that benchmarks don't always translate to real-world performance and this is also true with battery stress test benchmarks. There could also be other variables influencing the small number of test results so far published. However some people are already deciding to return Apple iPhone 6S models with Samsung A9 chips if they are within the no quibble returns time window (varies between markets).

For those interested in determining their Apple iPhone 6S CPU maker there is a tool available to help you find out. CPUIdentifier is available here and, as unsigned code, is to be installed at your own risk.

UPDATE: Apple has uncharacteristically made a statement about the above issues, it talks down any difference between the TSMC and Samsung made A9 processors:

"With the Apple-designed A9 chip in your iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus, you are getting the most advanced smartphone chip in the world. Every chip we ship meets Apple's highest standards for providing incredible performance and deliver great battery life, regardless of iPhone 6s capacity, color, or model.

Certain manufactured lab tests which run the processors with a continuous heavy workload until the battery depletes are not representative of real-world usage, since they spend an unrealistic amount of time at the highest CPU performance state. It's a misleading way to measure real-world battery life. Our testing and customer data show the actual battery life of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, even taking into account variable component differences, vary within just 2-3% of each other."

HEXUS Forums :: 13 Comments

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If this turns out to be representative rather than just an outlier due to binning (for either or both) then it's the opposite of what most people's responses on various forums have been.
soooooo….its 50:50 as to whether you get better battery life?
I'd maybe trust the post on reddit if the testing was ‘exactly’ the same and had performance figures too. Not to mention there are other hardware variables which might be at play such as the battery, other ‘control chips’ etc…
They're reporting the Samsung runs hotter so it could be thermal throttling (less cpu performance) playing a part too while Samsungs isn't and maintains full performance.

Also just purely from a ‘business perspective’ the odds of Apple allowing Samsungs cpu to perform 2 hours differently in exactly the same testing scenario is pretty slim, it would cause no end of issues for Apple in terms of advertising of stated performance/usage hours if nothing else. Not to mention the chip is ‘designed’ by Apple these days.
If this turns out to be representative rather than just an outlier due to binning (for either or both) then it's the opposite of what most people's responses on various forums have been.

I'm hardly an expert, but I feel this could be put down to the A9 chip having one overall design, and that design playing nicer with TSMC's 16FF process as opposed to Samsung's 14FF process.

It is kind of odd though. You'd expect a smaller process to use less power and be more efficient, but perhaps the design of the A9 is the limiting factor here in that it just suits the 16FF process better. Like I said though, I'm not an expert, just some guy commenting on an article.
Or as a conspiracy theory, maybe Samsung has deliberately hamstrung the A9 on their 14nm process to screw with Apple… :P