Anandtech released the first Apple (AAPL) iTV hardware teardown accompanied by excellent analysis. Here are my takeaways, aided by their astute photos and observations.
- The iTV uses a standalone Nvidia (NVDA) GPU chip (GEFORCE GO 7300) normally targeted for mobile applications with 64Mb of dedicated GDDR3. While 18 months old (about 10 dog years ) it is capable of decent graphical performance with support for multiple pixel pipelines and shaders and anti-aliasing. This chip is also used to offload the weak CPU in order to provide solid H.264 decoding.
- The CPU is an Intel (INTC) processor of the low voltage mobile variety, something you would normally see in an ultra-mobile PC like an OQO. It is used in conjunction with an off-the-shelf mobile computing North and South bridge chipset and 256Mb of DRAM. The iTV is a full fledged mini-PC.
- Inside is the 40G, 2.5 inch hard drive that appears to be easily replaceable. 40Gb is a joke if you consider a future need for storing HD quality video- I expect folks will quickly hack in 120Gb drives. Apple will probably announce a new revision of ITV when iTunes finally supports HD quality video (just like Xbox 360 already does).
- The iTV is a great 1st generation example of how the “Third Screen” (see “Nyquist Predictions for 2007“, or migration of computing from the desktop to the laptop to the living room will be implemented in hardware. The emphasis is ultra-low-power and video, not necessarily computing horsepower and memory.
- While the current Nvidia device is an 18-month old design, it is an excellent example of how the “Third Screen” places a greater premium on graphics performance rather than CPU performance. This is why AMD (AMD) bought ATI. Apple’s partnership with Intel all but excluded AMD from this design, though I expect AMD to continue to make inroads, as they already have supplying IP for the XBOX360 and Nintendo (NTDOY.PK) Wii.
- I’m going to go out on a limb and compare the graphical power of the iTV to a Nintendo Wii. Both the iTV and the Wii have 64Mb of GDDR3 memory, both are in 90nm technology, and both have about the same release timeframe. Very little is known of the ATI Hollywood chipset used in the Wii, so this is speculation.
- GDDR3 memory demand is only going to increase as the Third Screen gains in popularity. While the iTV has a wimpy graphics processor today, it will not be long until consumers demand ultra-slick interfaces and graphical features that higher end GPUs can deliver. This will require more texture memory, particularly at 1920×1080 full HD resolutions.
- The modest iTV hardware is general-purpose enough to equal the computing power of a 2-3 year old laptop, which means it is capable of doing pretty interesting stuff.
- While the iTV is a dumb, headless, media extender today, all of the hardware potential exists for this device to be a portal for web based computing. Apple will roll these features out over time.
Photos courtesy Anandtech. Author is long Nvidia.