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Report: Mystery Chips In iPod Nano

In place of PortalPlayer chips are three Apple-marked items of unknown origin, according to an analysis of the new Nano player.

InformationWeek Staff

September 14, 2006

3 Min Read

MANHASSET, N.Y. — Apple Computer Inc.'s new iPod Nano player has three Apple-marked chips of unknown origin, but no chip from PortalPlayer Inc., according to a Wedbush Morgan Securities report discussing a teardown of the long-awaited media player.

According to the report, the design contrasts with the first-generation Nano, where there were no Apple-marked chips. Wedbush Morgan Securities (Los Angeles) believes one of the Apple-marked chips is Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s S5L8701B05 ARM processor (part #337S3291-8701), occupying the socket formerly supplied by PortalPlayer.

The second mysterious chip is the audio driver and codec (part #338S0310), a socket formerly owned by Wolfson Microelectronics plc. NXP, formerly Philips Semiconductors, provided the power-management chip in the older-generation Nano.

According to a separate teardown provided by Portelligent Inc. (Austin, Texas), "Wolfson provides the audio codec in the new Nano."

"We do not see the Wolfson audio driver chip or Philips power-management chip that was in the first-generation Nano, though Apple could have re-marked either of those chips," said Craig Berger, an analyst with Wedbush.

The lack of chip branding within the new Nano will stir up "a lot of speculation," Berger said, adding that Apple purposely "concealed the identity of its chips and their suppliers."

Still, Apple (Cupertino, Calif.) is set to make a killing on the new Nano — if the product flies off the shelf. The 2-, 4-, and 8-GB versions of the Nano sell for $149, $199 and $249, respectively. The total bill-of-materials (BOM) in the new Nano are $74.90 for the 2-GB model, $97.90 for the 4-GB version and $143.90 for the 8-GB player, according to Wedbush.

The report, meanwhile, also noted that Cypress Semiconductor, Linear Technology, National Semiconductor, Silicon Storage Tech, and Samsung maintained their sockets in the new iPod Nano. Cypress supplied the CY8C21434LKXI interface controller IC, Linear Technology supplied its LTC4066 charger/USB power management chip, National Semiconductor the LM34910B stepdown switching regulator, and Silicon Storage Technology the 39WF800A 8-Megabyte NOR boot flash.

Wedbush's analysis noted that Samsung maintained its SDRAM socket part K4M56163PG, but added the Nano examined used Hynix's HY27UVO8AG5M flash memory. Both suppliers are likely providing the flash memory in the new player, the firm said.

The teardown answers some of the speculation that built up in recent months over whose chips would be designed into the new iPod Nano. But it also confirmed the harsh reality for companies such as Portal Player, which derived 90 percent of its sales from the iPod but learned in April its media processor chip would not be designed into the next-generation iPod models.

According to Wedbush Morgan, Apple is likely to reap huge benefits from the new Nano, which was introduced Sept. 12. The firm estimates Apple's gross margin could be as high as 50 percent, given the falling price of NAND flash.

A year ago, the high-end Nano, still priced at $249, contained $150 in NAND flash, compared to $92 at present, the report added.

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