Chip manufacturer TSMC is preparing to produce tens of thousands of cutting-edge chips – and Apple has already bought the lot. The chips, manufactured using a brand new 3-nanometre process, are expected to become the A16 processor for iPads and future M series processors for Macs. They’re destined to appear in future iPhones too.
3nm processors are capable of delivering much more performance while also reducing energy consumption and temperature. That means an iPhone 14 with a 3nm chip could be much, much faster while also delivering vastly improved battery life while future M1 Macs could make today’s incredibly fast M1 MacBooks look like slowcoaches.
Why Apple’s bought up everything
When we talk about 5nm or 3nm processes we’re talking about the density of the chip: the smaller the process, the more densely packed a processor can be. More density means higher performance and lower power consumption, and with tasks such as machine learning and AI demanding ever more processing power the demand for denser, more efficient processors isn’t going to go away.
The news comes from Chinese site United Daily News, which reports that TSMC’s 3nm production line is expected to produce 600,000 processors a year with mass production starting in 2022 – and the same sources say that Apple has bought the entire initial production run for its mobile devices and Macs. The lion’s share of the chips are destined for M series Macs, but they’re expected to be used in Apple’s iPhones and iPads too.
Previous reports indicated that “risk production” – essentially manufacturing before the final details are completely signed off – would begin in 2021, but with full production not expected until well into 2022 it looks like the 3nm processors will be for the A16 processor rather than the A15 that’ll be in the 2021 iPad and iPhone 13 too.
It’s not a surprise that Apple plans to be first out of the gate with 3nm devices: its M1 and A14 Bionic chips are the first commercially available 5nm processors. If history repeats with 3nm we should see the new processor tech appear first in M Series Macs and the iPad before making their way into the iPhone. That’s what Apple did with the A14 Bionic, which debuted in the iPad before making its way into the iPhone 12.
Why nanometers matter
The smaller the production process the better the processor – and the more money to costs to develop them. Moving from 5nm to 3nm production means entirely new manufacturing processes, product design and testing equipment too. According to Semiengineering.com, as of last year “the cost to design a 3nm device ranges from $500 million to $1.5 billion”. Industry insiders say TMSC needs to sell 300 million 3nm chips to make any money. We’re sure Apple can help them with that.