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Is the rumored 64-bit Apple chip for iPhone 5S just wishful thinking?

64-bit mobile processors are coming, just not right away

By , Network World
August 27, 2013 12:43 PM ET

Network World - Bloggers are speculating that a 31% boost in speed for Apple’s not-yet-announced A7 processor is related to still other speculation that Apple will introduce a 64-bit chip architecture in the next iPhone. But there’s not much of a foundation for any of the conjecture.

iphone 5S

In fact, ARM Ltd’s first 64-bit processor cores for the mobile market are not expected to appear in very high-end smartphones and tablets until sometime in 2014. Shifting from a 32-bit to a 64-bit chip instruction set, by itself, yields only a relatively small performance boost, of 8 percent to 10 percent, according to James Bruce, lead mobile strategist, ARM, Ltd.

[NEWS: Hot products from VMworld 2013]

Most smartphones today run processors based on the ARM instruction set and ARM-designed processing cores, which are actually manufactured by various silicon foundries. As an architectural licensee, Apple no longer relies on ARM’s cores: with the dual-core A6 system-on-chip (SOC) in the iPhone 5, Apple introduced its first custom-designed core, dubbed Swift. For some highly technical detective work on Swift, see the in-depth iPhone 5 review at AnandTech, which begins its analysis of Swift here

Bruce did not comment on Apple’s plans. He did say that ARM partners will be incorporating the first 64-bit ARM mobile processor, the Cortex-A53, into 2014 smartphones. “But they’ll just be running 32-bit software,” Bruce says. The A53 is intended as a follow-on to the 32-bit Cortex-A7, with improved efficiency, according to Bruce.

The new wave of 64-bit speculation began Sunday with a single tweet by Fox News anchor (sometimes incorrectly described by bloggers as a “reporter”) Clayton Morris: “Sources are telling me the new iPhone's A7 chip is running at about 31% faster than A6. I’m hearing it’s very fast.”

Past generational shifts in the A series processors have led to a doubling in performance, according to Apple.

Morris didn’t mention 64-bit. But Mark Gurman did in a 9to5Mac.com post suggesting that the faster speed noted by Morris may be due to the use of a 64-bit architecture.

In keeping with rumor convention, Gurman refers to the next iPhone as the iPhone “5S.” It is widely expected to be announced Sept. 10.

“The iPhone 5′s A6 chip is dual-core, and it seems like the iPhone 5S will also remain dual-core,” he said. “However, there could be a major differentiator: 64-bit. We’ve independently heard claims that some of the iPhone 5S internal prototypes include 64-bit processors.”

The following day, Morris tweeted that he, too, has heard the same thing. “I too have heard 64-bit from multiple sources. Just as @markgurman reported yesterday. Should be an interesting Sept. event.”

Yet Gurman actually isn’t certain – nor apparently are his sources - that the next iPhone will have a 64-bit processor, saying only that “it’s been in testing.”

Neither Morris’ tweets nor Gurman’s post actually connects what may be two separate and unrelated developments.

But that didn’t stop bloggers from going much further in their own speculation, using phrases like “reportedly” and “is expected” to suggest much more concreteness than actually exists. VentureBeat’s headline was “Apple reportedly debuting 64-bit A7 chips for upcoming iPhone 5S.” That post by Dean Takahashi was based on Morris’ tweet and Gurman’s post: “The A7 processor is expected to operate on 64-bit code and will have two brains known as cores.”

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