Apple aims to be the first company to use the Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturing company’s latest chip manufacturing technology next year, and plans to use it for some of its iPhones and Mac computers, sources familiar with the matter told Nikkei Asia.
The A17 mobile processor currently under development will be mass-produced using TSMC’s N3E chip manufacturing technology, which is expected to be available by the middle of next year, three people familiar with the matter said. The A17 will be used in the premium entry in the iPhone line, which is slated for release in 2023, he said.
N3E is an improved version of TSMC’s 3-nanometer manufacturing technology, which will begin service this year. Apple’s next-generation M3 chip is set to use the improved 3-nm technology for Mac offerings, two sources added.
The nanometer size refers to the distance between the transistors on the chip. The lower the number, the more transistors can be crammed onto the chip, making them more powerful but also more challenging and expensive to manufacture.
N3E offers better performance and energy efficiency than the original version of the technology, TSMC said at a recent technology symposium in Hsinchu, Taiwan. The improved manufacturing technology is designed to be more cost-effective than before, industry sources said.
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As TSMC’s largest customer and the biggest driver of new semiconductor technologies, Apple is still the most trusted partner in adopting the latest chip technology. The US tech giant will use some of TSMC’s first-generation 3-nm technology for the upcoming iPad, Nikkei Asia previously reported.
Intel previously told TSMC it wanted to be among the first wave of 3-nm production this year or early next year, like Apple, but has since delayed the order to at least 2024, three people told Nikkei Asia. .
However, 2023 could be the second year in a row that Apple uses TSMC’s most advanced chip manufacturing technology for just one part of its iPhone lineup. In the year In 2022, only the premium iPhone 14 Pro range received the latest A16 core processor, produced by TSMC 4-nm process technologies, currently the most advanced. The standard iPhone 14 range uses the older A15, which was used in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro models released in the second half of 2021.
Meanwhile, the race is on among chipmakers to come up with more advanced production technology. TSMC and Samsung each hope to be the first to mass produce 3-nm technology this year. This technology is suitable for all types of central and graphics processors for smartphones, computers and servers, as well as those used in artificial intelligence computing.
According to Dylan Patel, principal analyst at SemiAnalysis, Apple could use different levels of product technology to differentiate between premium and non-premium models. In the past, the biggest differences were in screens and cameras, but this could be extended to processors and memory chips, he said.
According to the analyst’s estimate, when moving from the 5-nm family to 3-nm chips, there is a price increase of at least 40 percent for the same silicon area, which includes 4-nm chips.
TSMC, Intel and Apple declined to comment.
version of this article First published by Nikkei Asia on September 14, 2022. ©2022 Nikkei Inc. all rights reserved.