As I wrote yesterday, the SOC used in the imminent “minor” Apple TV update is likely to be a low-volume production trial preceding its deployment in a much higher-volume product.
Brian Klug at AnandTech has a pretty convincing theory that the upcoming Apple TV update not only uses the A5X, but a process-shrunk update of it:
Update: I should note that S5L8945 is the original 45nm Samsung produced A5X, S5L8947 is the A5XR2 that is in this unannounced Apple TV. Note that previously the A5 underwent a similar plus 2 offset, from S5L8940 (A5) to S5L8942 (A5R2) which changed process geometry from 45nm to 32nm HK-MG at Samsung. It’s possible we’re also looking at a process node change with the A5X to A5XR2 here.
I couldn’t believe that Apple would use the iPad 3’s A5X in anything again since it was huge, hot, power-inefficient, and too slow for CPU-bound operations on Retina iPad pixel volume.
A process-shrunk A5X probably won’t contain faster CPUs, but it would be smaller, cooler, and more efficient.
It’s obvious, in retrospect, what this is probably for: the Retina iPad Mini.
The A5X has the bare minimum power required to drive a Retina iPad screen with reasonable GPU performance, it’s probably cheaper to produce than the A6X, and it’s slower than the higher-margin 10” iPads so many people will still buy them.
If this turns out to be correct, I’ll be disappointed as a developer — I hate supporting the A5X in Instapaper because some of my animation computations run so slowly on it. But as a user, if a process shrink can make the A5X fit elegantly into an iPad Mini, a Retina model is much closer than I originally thought, almost certainly able to come out this year.1 And that will probably be an awesome device.
I’ll bet someone a sandwich that a Retina iPad Mini comes out this fall or earlier, and uses a process-shrunk A5X.