Apple iPad 2012 Teardown: Amazing display, difficult to repair

The 2012 Apple iPad is a solid upgrade and its Retina display is amazing. But as Bill Detwiler discovered, it's still difficult to open and repair.

From the outside, Apple's third-generation iPad may look at lot like it's predecessor, but it's what's on the inside that counts. In this week's episode of Cracking Open, I show how to open the 2012 iPad's case (a frustratingly difficult process) and show you the hardware inside.

Cracking Open: Apple iPad 2012 (Wi-Fi + 4G Verizon)

Our 2012 Apple iPad (Wi-Fi + 4G Verizon) 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, 4G LTE and CDMA EV-DO, and 5MP iSight and VGA-quality FaceTime cameras. The iPad measures 7.31" (W) x 9.50" (W) x 0.37" (D) and weighs 1.46 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 + 4G Verizon)

Cracking Open observations

  • Difficult-to-open case: The 2012 iPad's design and construction are nearly identical to that of the iPad 2. Unfortunately, this means the new tablet's case is just as difficult to open and reseal at the previous model's. You'll need a heat gun or heavy duty hair dryer and a bunch of thin metal or plastic tools to remove the front panel without breaking it.
  • Retina display: The most significant of update to the 2012 iPad is the new Retina display. This 9.7-inch screen offers a resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels at 264ppi. This is four times the iPad 2's total number of pixels, and according to Apple, you won't be able to see the pixels when viewing the new iPad at a distance of 15 inches. And from personal experience, I'll tell you that the screen really is fantastic.
  • A5X SoC: To run this new display, Apple beefed up the tablet's GPU and RAM. From all the material I've seen, the A5X SoC has a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU (like the iPad 2's A5) and a quad-core PowerVR SGX543MP4+ GPU (an upgrade from the iPad 2's PowerVR SGX543MP2). 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 4S. 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.
  • 4G LTE support: In the US, the new iPad supports both AT&T and Verizon's 4G LTE networks. This will enable data transfer speeds up to 72Mbps. And if the carrier allows it, you'll also be able to use the new iPad as a personal hotspot. This upgrade helps the iPad compete with Android tablets that already support 4G, such as the Motorola Xyboard.
  • Larger-capacity battery: To power all these new features, Apple gave the 2012 iPad a battery with significantly more capacity than the the previous version--43Whr compared to 25Whr. Given the new tablet's beefier 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 12058HCA)
  • 1 GB Samsung DRAM (512MB mobile DRAM K3PE4E400E XGC1 x2)
  • Broadcom BCM4330 802.11a/b/g/n MAC/Baseband/Radio with Integrated Bluetooth 4.0+HS & FM Transceiver
  • Fairchild FDMC 6683
  • Texas Instruments CD3240 driver device (CD3240B0 1CAY7KT)
  • Broadcom BCM5973 I/O controller (BCM59731A1 KUFBG HE1202 P11 179034 03 W)
  • Broadcom BCM5974 microprocessor (BCM5974 CKFBGH HE1205 P12 184595 N3 W)
  • Qualcomm MDM9600 - 3G and 4G wireless modem
  • Avago A7792
  • Unknown MT chip (2CDI8 NQ312 BDDT)
  • Qualcomm RTR8600 multi-band/mode RF transceiver for LTE bands
  • Triquint TQM7M5013 quad-band linear power amplifier module
  • Unknown Apple chip (338S0987 B0RJ1152 SGP)
  • Qualcomm PM8028 Power Management IC
Updated 3/19/2012: Changed DRAM manufacture from Elpida to Samsung based on new part number information.

By Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the ...