There’s no definitive word from Apple on when the iPad 3 will launch or what features the new tablet will have. But, reports from Bloomberg, 9to5 Mac, AllThingsD, iMore and others point to a early March debut–perhaps even March 7th. As for features, the consensus among Apple watchers is a faster processor, better display, and 4G LTE support.

And within the past two weeks, the level of speculation surrounding the iPad 3 seems to have reached a crescendo. In recent days, photos have popped up around the Web that purportedly show internal iPad 3 hardware, a shipment of iPads leaving China for the US, and lines of code with the iOS 5.1 beta that hint at two new Apple processors.

As I did with the original iPad and iPad 2, I’ll be cracking open the iPad 3 as soon as we get our hands on one. But even now, we may be able to see the processor that will power the new iPad. And, it may not be the A6.

Dual-core A5X or quad-core A6?

Every follower of Apple products expects the iPad 3 will have a faster processor than the iPad 2, and many suspect it will be a quad-core A6 chip. But a photo (shown below) posted on, a Chinese-language site, allegedly shows an iPad 3 motherboard.

Interestingly, the main chip is market “A5X” not “A6”. What’s going on here? Well, there are several possibilities:

  • Image is fake: I’m no expert in forensic image analysis, but I think the likelihood of this possibility is relatively low. I’ve photoshopped my fair share of images, and this one doesn’t look patently fake. Also, 9to5Mac found evidence within the iOS 5.1 beta code of two new iOS device chips–a half-step upgraded (the A5X) and a full-step upgrade (the A6). The A5X chip appears to be real, but will it power the iPad 3?
  • Not an iPad motherboard: Just because the photo isn’t doctored, doesn’t mean the motherboard shown is from an iPad 3. Rumors about an Apple TV set have swirled around the Web for months. Perhaps the motherboard will be used in that device. The motherboard could also be for a rumored 8-inch Apple tablet. Officials with Asian component suppliers told The Wall Street Journal that Apple “has shown them screen designs for a new device with a screen size of around eight inches and said the company is qualifying suppliers for it.” The motherboard could also be for the next-generation iPhone–doubtful given the board’s size. Despite these three possibilities, the motherboard in the photo (or what we can see of it), does look a lot like that of the iPad 2 (shown to the right – click image for full size version).
  • iPad 3 prototype motherboard: Given the chip references within the iOS 5.1 beta code, Apple appears to have developed both an upgraded dual-core A5 and quad-core A6. I wouldn’t be surprised if the company tested both chips, looking for the best combination of processing power, graphics performance, and battery life. As others have pointed out, It’s likely that the motherboard shown in this photo is an early iPad 3 prototype.
  • iPad 3 will be powered by A5X: Lastly, it’s possible that the iPad 3 will use an upgraded version of the dual-core A5 and not the quad-core A6 chip many were expecting. Since Nvidia released it’s quad-core Tegra 3, there’s been a lot of back and forth between mobile processor makers about which is better–a quad-core chip based on older ARM Cortex-A9 processors or a dual-core chip based on the newer ARM Cortex-A15 processors. We’ll have to wait until the iPad 3 comes out to see what Apple thinks.

All these possibilities are pure speculation. There’s no way to tell for sure what processor we’ll find inside the iPad 3 until we crack it open. Stay tuned!