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What are all the differences between the black 3rd Gen Apple TV and the 2nd Gen Apple TV? Which one is best for me?
For those interested in the shortest possible answer -- the main difference between the black 3rd Gen Apple TV and the also black 2nd Gen Apple TV is that the 3rd Gen model is capable of supporting 1080p video rather than just 720p video like its predecessor.
The 3rd Gen model also ships with new software, for better or worse, which features a new "grid" layout similar to the iPad as well as a handful of modest new features. However, the 2nd Gen model also supports this software and can be updated for free.
For those interested in more detail, the following covers similarities as well as important identification differences and the internal technical differences that make 1080p video support possible.
External & Connectivity Similarities
Externally, the 3rd Gen and 2nd Gen Apple TV look identical.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (2nd & 3rd Gen Apple TV)
Both models use a tiny 3.9 inch by 3.9 inch by 0.9 inch black case that resembles a hockey puck and are bundled with the same aluminum Apple Remote.
Connectivity is identical, too. Both models have an optical audio out port, an HDMI port, a 10/100Base-T Ethernet port, a Micro-USB port, and support 802.11a/b/g/n "AirPort Extreme" wireless networking. Both models also support Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound via pass-through.
As the cases are identical, the 2nd Gen and 3rd Gen Apple TV models only can be externally identified by model number, EMC number, and serial number, all of which are provided in tiny type toward the bottom of the underside of each device.
To pinpoint a specific Apple TV by other identifiers -- including its serial number -- please refer to EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Lookup feature.
Apple provides only minimal technical information regarding any Apple TV model. Specifically, Apple reveals that the 2nd Gen Apple TV is powered by an Apple A4 processor and the 3rd Gen Apple TV is powered by an Apple A5 processor, both with a single processor core.
However, iFixit tore apart the 2nd Gen model and discovered that the Apple A4 processor has a 1 GHz clockspeed and that the device has 256 MB of onboard RAM and 8 GB of flash RAM to act as a buffer during streaming.
As first spotted by MacRumors, a curious member of the XBMC forums was the first to teardown the 3rd Gen model and determine that the Apple A5 processor also runs at 1 GHz and the device has a 8 GB flash RAM buffer, too, but it has 512 MB of onboard RAM. Interestingly, further analysis by Chipworks determined that this 32 nm Apple A5 (APL2498) processor actually has dual cores, but only one is activated or operational.
The major differences -- video streaming support, technical differences and identifiers -- are summarized below:
2nd Gen Apple TV
3rd Gen Apple TV
|Processor Type:||Apple A4||Apple A5|
|Processor Speed:||1 GHz (Variable)||1 GHz (Variable)|
|Standard RAM:||256 MB||512 MB|
|Flash Memory:||8 GB||8 GB|
|USB Ports:||1 (Micro-USB)||1 (Micro-USB)|
|5.1 Surround Sound:||Yes||Yes|
|Apple Order No:||MC572LL/A||MD199LL/A|
|Apple Model No:||A1378||A1427|
So, which Apple TV is best for my needs?
Ultimately, for those who need 1080p video support, the 3rd Gen Apple TV is the ideal choice. For those who don't have adequate bandwidth to sling 1080p video around, who don't have a 1080p television, or to whom saving a bit of money is important, a 2nd Gen Apple TV remains well worth consideration on the used market.