How much better will the redesigned Apple A12 iPhone processor be?

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Apple A12 replaces A11 Bionic
The A11 Bionic is a fine processor, but the Apple A12 is expected to be even better.
Photo: iFixit

Official details of the processor for the 2018 iPhone are months away, but we can already be confident the Apple A12 will be at least 20 percent faster than the current chip, while using 40 percent less power.

And this is the minimal performance improvement to be expected. Apple’s next devices will almost certainly be even speedier.

The details on likely iPhone baseline improvements come from TSMC, the company that manufactures all the CPUs that Apple designs.

TSMC’s breakthrough this year is chips with a 7nm process, down from 10nm. This is a measurement of the distance between components of the processor. Packing these into less space means better performance and less waste heat, saving power.

TSMC promises significant improvements: “Compared to its 10nm FinFET process, TSMC’s 7nm FinFET features 1.6X logic density, ~20% speed improvement, and ~40% power reduction.”

Shrinking and growing simultaneously

Apple generally stays on the cutting edge of processor design, bringing steady improvements.

Back in 2014, its A8 chip used a 20nm design, while the follow-up A9 was either 14nm or 16nm, depending on whether it was produced by Samsung or TSMC. The A10 Fusion was 16nm.

The current Apple A11 Bionic processor in the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X uses TSMC’s 10nm FinFET technology.

Given this progression, it seems a safe bet that Apple’s next mobile chip will employ the 7nm FinFET process, seeing as TSMC has it ready to go.

Just the start for Apple A12

The 20 percent performance improvement comes entirely from switching to a 7nm design. It’s what would result if last year’s A11 Bionic chip were produced with the smaller gap between components.

But, of course, that’s not what Apple will do. It will make other improvements to its 2018 design, leading to additional performance increases.

The full details on this processor  — almost certainly called the A12 — likely won’t be available until the next generation iPhone models are announced this fall. Still, additional leaks are possible before then.

Heart of the 2018 iPhone

Apple’s next mobile processor is expected to power three new iOS smartphones set for unveiling this fall.

A second-generation iPhone X will be one, probably priced at $899. Another will be this same model with a larger 6.5-inch screen and a $999 price. A more affordable option will have a 6.1-inch display and cost between $550 and $750. 

The inexpensive replacement for the iPhone SE will likely use an older chip design, possibly the A11 Bionic.