Apple’s third-generation iPad is similar in overall design and construction to the iPad 2. But, Apple’s third-generation tablet packs some significant hardware upgrades. In this week’s episode of Cracking Open, I take a look inside the Wi-Fi version the 2012 Apple iPad.

Editor’s note: The Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + 4G iPads have similar hardware. Therefore, some of the material in this Cracking Open analysis came from my earlier article, “Apple iPad 2012 Teardown: Amazing display, difficult to repair.”

Our 2012 Apple iPad (Wi-Fi) has a Samsung-made, Apple-branded A5X system-on-a-chip (SoC), 16GB of storage, a 9.7″ Retina display (2,048 x 1,536 at 264ppi), 802.11 a/b/g/n WLAN and Bluetooth 4, and 5MP iSight and VGA-quality FaceTime cameras. The iPad measures 7.31″ (W) x 9.50″ (W) x 0.37″ (D) and weighs 1.44 pounds.

Despite all the hardware upgrades, Apple kept the iPad’s pricing and options scheme the same. As of this writing, the 2012 iPad is available in two colors (White and Black), two wireless connectivity configurations (Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + 4G), and three storage capacities (16GB, 32GB, and 64GB). Prices for Wi-Fi only iPads start at $499 and go up to $699. Prices for Wi-Fi + 4G units start at $629 and go up to $829.

Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Apple iPad 2012 (Wi-Fi)

Cracking Open observations

  • Difficult-to-open case: The 2012 iPad is nearly identical to the iPad 2 in design and construction. This is nice as it means many iPad 2 accessories (such as the Smart Cover) will fit this year’s model. But it also means the new tablet is a real pain to crack open and work on. I used a hair dryer to heat and loosen the adhesive that holds the front panel to the aluminum case, and several thin metal and plastic tools to pry loose the front panel. Even having done this once before on the iPad 2 and new 4G iPad, this process took at least 30 minutes. So be patient and don’t rush it. Apple definitely didn’t design this tablet to be user-serviceable.
  • Retina display: The new, 9.7-inch Retina display has a resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels at 264 pixels per inch, and offers four times the total number of pixels as the iPad 2’s screen.
  • A5X SoC: To run this display, Apple gave the iPad a more powerful GPU and more RAM. From what I can tell, the 2012 iPad’s A5X system-on-a-chip has dual-core CPU (like the iPad 2) but a quad-core GPU. The 2012 iPad also has 1GB of RAM, compared to the iPad 2’s 512MB. Interestingly, the PlayStation Vita uses the same PowerVR SGX543MP+ GPU, but pairs it with a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU.
  • 5MP iSight camera: One of my biggest disappointments with the iPad 2 was the cameras’ poor image quality. Luckily, the new iPad’s camera will have the same optics as the iPhone 4. It will offer a 5MP sensor, backside illumination, 5-element lens, hybrid IR filter, and Apple-designed ISP. It also supports 1080p video recording, video stabilization, and temporal noise reduction.
  • Better battery: One of the more surprising features of the new iPad is the battery. Although it’s roughly the same physical size as the iPad 2’s battery, it provides a lot more power. The new battery is a rated at 43Whr compared to the just 25Whr for the iPad 2. But given the new tablet’s souped up hardware, battery life remains about the same–10 hours under normal use and 9 hours on 4G.
  • Unchanged storage options: On the downside, Apple didn’t increase the iPad’s storage capacity. The 2012 model comes in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB versions.
  • Single speaker: Also, the tablet still has a single speaker. It gets the job done, but most other 10-inch tablets have two.

Internal hardware

Our 2012 iPad test unit has the following hardware:

  • A5X SoC (Samsung-made, Apple-branded)
    • 1GHz dual-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU
    • 200MHz quad-core Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX543MP4+ GPU
  • 9.7″ LED-backlit Retina display (2,048 x 1,536 pixels at 264ppi)
  • 3.7V 43.0WHr 11,560mAh Li-ion Polymer Battery (Model: A1389)
  • 16GB Hynix H2DRDG8UD1MYR NAND Flash
  • Unknown Apple chip (343S0561-A1 11508HCF)
  • 1 GB Elpida DRAM (512MB B4064B2MA-8D-F x 2)
  • Broadcom BCM4330 802.11a/b/g/n MAC/Baseband/Radio with Integrated Bluetooth 4.0+HS & FM Transceiver
  • Fairchild FDMC 6676B2
  • Fairchild FDMC 6683
  • Texas Instruments CD3240 driver device (CD3240B0 1CA038T)
  • Broadcom BCM5973 I/O controller (BCM59731A1 KUFBG HE1151 P11 176760 03 W)
  • Broadcom BCM5974 microprocessor (BCM5974 CKFBGH HE1152 P12 178465 N3 W)
  • Unknown Apple chip (338S0987 B0RV1151 SGP)