Production on Apple’s next-gen A15 chips will reportedly start up in May, using the same 5-nanometer fabrication size as last year’s A14 chip. However, this year’s A-series chip refresh will boast an “enhanced” manufacturing process that should result in superior performance next to the A14 processor.
This is approximately what you would expect to see in terms of both the schedule and nanometer jump between iPhone models. Apple typically is underway with production by around May, ready for the September iPhone launch. There is also usually an upgrade (or, in terms of minimum feature size, downgrade) in nanometers every couple of years.
The A14 chip was Apple’s first 5nm A-series chip. Before that, both the A12 and A13 were made with the 7nm process. And so on. But the A13 chip managed to pack on 8.5 billion transistors to the A12’s 6.9 billion — despite using the same nanometer process.
It seems likely we’ll see another boost with this year’s iPhone, even if it doesn’t take another major leap on the nanometer front.
Moore’s Law and the next-gen chips
The number of nanometers on a CPU refers to the size of the transistors on a chip. The smaller the transistors, the more it’s possible to fit on a chip. (Think of it like writing with a sharp pencil versus writing with a blunt one. Both write information, but one can do it more efficiently than the other.) While more transistors doesn’t necessarily mean better performance, it broadly tends to translate to this.
Manufacturing on the new A15 chip is being done by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, a.k.a. TSMC. This is the same company that has made Apple’s A-series chips for years. A previous report, published roughly this time last year, said that TSMC was on track to deliver 3-nanometer chips which could be used in phones as soon as 2022. It noted that so-called “risk production” of these chips will take place in 2021. Interestingly, today’s Digitimes report talks about the next-gen nanometer process being 4nm. These will supposedly be ready to go sometime this year, ahead of the previous 2022 deadline.
Given that Apple jumped from 7nm to 5nm, it will be interesting to see if next year’s iPhone refresh opts for a 4nm or 3nm chip. As the nanometer numbers get smaller, these kinds of jumps get tougher to make for reasons of, well, physics.
Source: Digitimes (paywall)