Under the Hood: Inside The Apple iPhone

Semiconductor Insights kept the video cameras rolling as they dove inside the iPhone to find out just what makes it tick.

Patrick Mannion, Contributor

July 2, 2007

5 Min Read

Editor's Note: The iPhone's debut was immediately met with cheap clones designed to capitalize upon the hype. Semiconductor Insights's team went inside two of those clones and was surprised at first by how bad they were, but then later by how close they came to emulating—and possibly surpassing—the original. Click video icon for the first of the clone videos.

COMMACK, N.Y. — Semiconductor Insights' Allan Yogasingam waited in line for 12 hours and braved the elements get ahold of the just-released Apple iPhone. He and his intrepid co-workers kept the cameras rolling as they popped the cover and dove inside what is possibly the hottest consumer device on the planet (click icon for video:video icon). The teardown is a follow-up to the company's teardowns of the latest gaming systems (Opportunities abound in nex-gen gaming platforms) and provides insight into what exactly Apple is doing to make a strong entry into the cell phone market.

Approximately 3 million iPhones were released in the United States at 6 pm local time on June 29th. The mass appeal and interest in the iPhone is a combination of Apple marketing, an interesting and interactive user interface, and the ability to integrate iTunes.

"There are phones available in the market that have better functionality than the iPhone, but much like how there were better MP3 players than the iPod, the iPhone really sets itself apart from its competitors with an interactive touch screen and it's integration of iTunes," stated Allan Yogasingam, SI's supply chain manager. "Not to mention a really slick design. The first thing you say when you see an iPhone is, "Cool".

SI's technical marketing manager, Greg Quirk, equates the iPhone in some ways to the Nintendo Wii (video icon) in that the technology inside the system is not altogether remarkable, but Nintendo's revolutionary user interface is what set it apart from the Sony's Playstation and Microsoft's Xbox line.

Going inside, "The first thing that strikes us as SI looked at the insides of the iPhone, are the number of Apple branded components," said Quirk. That makes it difficult to discern what parts make up the iPhone. To get inside the chips, SI resorted to decapping, a process that involves immersing the chips in acid to dissolve the outer packaging and then manually scraping away any residual packaging material.

There were three parts with the Apple logo, and another four that seemed to have a numbering scheme similar to Apple's without any discernable manufacturer markings. "The first Apple branded component is the Samsung processor, which is a three stacked die package containing an S5L8900 and two 512 Mbit SRAM dice," said Quirk. While SI has not seen the S5L8900 marking before, it said the numbering conforms to other Samsung processors found in smart phones and PDAs.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The second Apple branded part is the Broadcom BCM5973A. While there is no information available about this part, but SI believes it provides the I/O controller used for the video interface to the touch screen. Philips designs the third part, with markings that start "with something like LPC2221," said Quirk. Further investigation into the component's purpose is ongoing.

Infineon manufactures two of the six remaining unknown parts. Infineon's PMB8876 S-Gold 2 multimedia engine with EDGE functionality provides the iPhone's baseband. The second Infineon part appears to be the GSM RF transceiver. Another component is the National Semiconductor 24-bit RGB display interface serializer. The other components are more difficult to determine, but it appears that one is a Texas Instruments power-management device, another is a multichip package with STMicroelectronics and Peregrine Semiconductor die markings, and the third has no discernable markings aside from the characters "PMA19".

(Click on image to enlarge)

"What is also interesting are the components that are similar between the iPhone and some of the latest iPod models," added Quirk. "Apple is taking what they learned, and redesigning it into their phone. This surely made the design process easier for them, as they are familiar with the components and how to implement them." For example, Samsung's 65-nm 8-Gbyte MLC NAND flash (K9MCG08U5M) was used in the iPhone. "This is the exact same component that was used in the 8-Gbyte iPod nano," said Quirk. "This memory is used to store things like songs, pictures, and videos. Samsung provides the K9HBG08U1M in the 4-Gbyte version of the iPhone."

The audio codec is the Wolfson WM8758. "This is the same codec that was used in the iPod video, making the sound quality similar to what you experience from your iPod," said Quirk. Other similar components to the iPod, are parts from Linear Technology and Silicon Storage Technologies.

The new components include wireless connectivity and touch screen. The Marvell 88W8686 is a 90-nm WLAN device, the same die can also be found in the Wi2Wi 802.11 + Bluetooth System in Package Solution. The CSR BlueCore 4 ROM is a Bluetooth device that was also used in the BlackBerry Pearl 8100.

Balda, a German company, scored the design win with the touch screen. "Balda is known for making touch screen that are durable and scratch resistant, a common complaint of the screen in iPods," said Quirk. According to Quirk, Balda has worked with Nokia, Motorola and Sony-Ericsson, but this is their most visible design, which should enhance their visibility.

The iPhone also implements Intel wireless flash with 32 Mbytes of NOR coupled with 16 Mbytes of SRAM for code execution. "Interestingly, many in the industry predicted a design win for Intel, but thought it would be for an Intel (now Marvell) applications processor instead of flash memory," said Quirk.

Among the related articles below, Portelligent's David Carey takes issue with some of SI's findings, and found several other iPhone design winners.

Related articles:
Under the Hood update: Software at heart of iPhone's simplicity
Can Apple sustain its iPhone launch success?
Inside the Apple 8GB iPod Nano

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