TSMC’s improved 3nm process arrives too late for Apple’s 2022 chips

TSMC’s improved 3nm process arrives too late for Apple’s 2022 chips

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Apple might get cutting-edge 3nm processors in 2022
Maybe next year.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

TSMC, the company that makes CPUs for iPhone and Mac, will have a 3 nanometer production process up and running in the second half of 2022. But that’s almost certainly too late for Apple’s upcoming A16 and M2 processors.

Still, these chips will benefit from TSMC’s 4nm process.

Apple A16 and M2 chips apparently will be 4nm not 3nm

Apple designs the processors for iPhone, Mac and iPad but they are produced by TSMC. And the Taiwanese company has been able to shrink the components of Apple’s chips every year or two, allowing them to work faster while generating less waste heat.

Its current chips use a 5nm process, and TSMC is almost ready to start 3nm production. “TSMC is on track to move 3nm process technology to volume production in the second half of this year, according to company CEO CC Wei,” reports Digitimes.

But that almost certainly isn’t in time for Apple’s A16 to go into the iPhone 14, and the M2 to power a variety of Macs and iPads. To see why, consider that A15 production began in May of 2021, and A14 production began in June. Even with the most optimistic possibility and TSMC starts producing 3nm chips in mid-summer 2022, past experience shows that’s too late for computers expected to launch in early fall. It’s not enough time to make the millions of processors needed.

And Wei said 3nm will be available sometime in the second half of 2022. The start could be anytime before the end of December — much too late for Apple’s needs.

The ever-shrinking Apple processor

TSMC has been able to consistently improve iPhone chips. The A9 used a 16nm process, the A11 used a 10nm process, the A13 was made with a 7nm process and the A15 chip in the iPhone 13 uses a 5nm process. This has helped make iPhones much faster than their rivals, while also increasing battery life.

The next-gen A16 is expected to be made with TSMC’s 4nm process, which is still an improvement. Just not as big a one as 3nm.

The M1 processor for Mac and iPad is also made with a 5nm process — it has the same core design as the A14 from 2020. And the M2 is expected to be made with a 4nm process, and be a very upscaled version of the A16.

The A17 in 2023 could well use a 3nm process. But so far Apple has kept the M-series chips around longer, so an M3 made with 3nm might not be out before 2024.