Digging Into The iPad 2: Costs, Components, and Capabilities

When Steve Jobs launched the iPad 2 recently, he was even more close-mouthed about its enhancements than usual. With NVIDIA's Tegra 2 starting to ship en masse and tablets on the hot seat for 2011, there's a tremendous amount of interest in the iPad 2's nuts and bolts.

Much of that interest has focused on the tablet's new A5 processor and upgrading GPU; detailed information is beginning to emerge. While it's too early in the year to know for certain, it looks as though Samsung's pessimistic evaluation of its new Galaxy tablet might be right on target.

Breaking Down the iPad 2

The A5 that powers the iPad 2 is a dual-core Cortex-A9 processor running at 1GHz. At 122mm sq it's more than twice the size of the A4, which weighed in at just 53.29mm sq. For comparison, both the GTX 480 and 580 dies are ~520 mm sq. All things considered, the A5 is fairly svelte. Like the iPad's A4, the A5 is being built on Samsung's 45nm process node.

As was previously rumored, the A5 supports LPDDR2 and runs at 1GHz—although according to UBMTechInsights, it doesn't run at that speed constantly but varies depending on the application it's running. Despite rumors, the iPad 2 does include more RAM than the original iPad offered; device memory is up to 512MB from the initial 256MB.

As for the iPad's competition, Tegra 2—or at least the Motorola Xoom's implementation of it—appears to offer also-ran performance at for a higher price. A recent article at AT shows the Xoom's Tegra 2 GPU taking a royal pounding from the iPad 2's SGX543M2's graphics subsystem. Tegra 2 does consistently outperform the original iPad, but the gap between it and the iPad 2 is surprisingly large.

Xoom sales, meanwhile, are characterized as "weak," amid criticism of the device's much-trumpted Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) OS as buggy and erratic. According to various reports, battery life can vary enormously (from 2-6 hours), battery standby life is a lousy 12 hours, and the device is apparently prone to freezes, crashes, and stutters.

Presumably future Tegra 2-based products will clean these issues up, but problems like this could also lead to Apple achieving dominance over a market of tablets with good intentions and a host of problems.