Apple is the first to receive 3nm chips from TSMC, but not for the device you're thinking about

Apple is the first to receive 3nm chips from TSMC, but not for the device you’re thinking about

The largest foundry in the world is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, Limited (TSMC). Both Samsung and Samsung are shipping chips made with their 3nm process node this year. The smaller the process node, the higher the number of transistors in chips. Since the iPhone 14 series is expected to be released around the second week of September, Apple will use the 4nm A16 Bionic to power the expensive Pro models, while the currently used 5nm A15 Bionic chip will be used on the iPhone 14 series. non-Pro models.

Samsung has already started shipping chips made with its 3nm process node

The reason this is important is that the greater the number of transistors, the more powerful and energy-efficient a chip is. Samsung Foundry has already started shipping 3nm chips this year, but only for cryptocurrency miners. TSMC will also ship 3nm chips this year, and with Apple being the company’s largest customer, you’d expect the tech giant to be the first to receive N3 chips from TSMC when they start shipping later this year. N3 is the designation for TSMC’s first generation 3nm chips.

According to Taiwan’s Commercial Times (via Looking for Alpha), Apple will indeed be TSMC’s first 3nm customer, but you won’t find 3nm SoCs in the iPhone 14 Pro models. The report of the Commercial times suggests Apple’s first 3nm chip will be the M2 Pro chip, followed by next year’s A17 Bionic SoC for the iPhone 15 Pro models. Yes that’s right. Apple is expected to continue using its latest Application Processor (AP) only on its more expensive premium models, while the non-Pro units are stuck with technology that is a generation old.
This is not the typical way Apple moves to the newest process node. Usually the latest chips are released in time to be included in the upcoming new iPhone series. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work this year and Apple will be using TSMC’s N4 chips for the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone Pro Max. Time wise, Apple couldn’t afford to gamble on TSMC’s rollout of its N3 chips and so the A16 Bionic will be made using 4nm technology, which is in reality a further improved version of the 5nm process node of the foundry.
The first chip made using TSMC’s N3 process node will likely be Apple’s first 3nm chip, the M2 Pro. The latter could eventually power the 2022 MacBook Pro line. It will be interesting to see how many transistors will be put into the 4nm A16 Bionic and the 3nm A17 Bionic. There are 15 billion in the 5nm A15 Bionic. That was a 27% increase over the 11.8 billion transistors used in the 7nm A13 Bionic. A similar increase for the A16 Bionic would bring the latter’s transistor count to just over 19 billion, in line with Macworld’s estimate of 18 to 20 billion.

When can we expect TSMC to start producing 2nm chips?

So what happens after 3nm? Last April, CC Wei, CEO of TSMC, said the goal is for TSMC to start shipping 2nm chips by 2026, making 3nm “a long node”. Most nodes last two years. While TSMC still uses FinFET transistors at 3nm, it will switch to Gate-All-Around for 2nm, a move Samsung already made with its 3nm node. Both foundries will continue to use Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography (EUV) at their 3nm nodes to etch the circuitry patterns thinner than hair on the wafers that become chips.

Last May, IBM stunned the chip world by: producing the world’s first 2nm chip. Using Gate-All-Around architecture, IBM said Big Blue could “place 50 billion transistors in a space about the size of a fingernail”.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. TSMC says its 3nm FinFET chips will reduce power consumption by 25-30% at the same speed, and increase speed by 10-15% at the same amount of power compared to the previous 5nm FinFET chips. Samsung has said its 3nm process node will reduce power consumption by 45% and improve performance by 23%.

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