Report: TSMC to begin making quad-core mobile chips for Apple beginning 2014

By , Oct 12, 2012

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest dedicated independent semiconductor foundry with its headquarters located in the Hsinchu Science Park in Hsinchu, Taiwan, will according to an analyst’s research note begin making next-generation quad-core mobile chips for iPhones, iPod touches and iPads sometime in 2014. We heard before that TSMC has a “good chance” of winning Apple’s chip biz in 2014 and this report reaffirms the notion…

According to a report by Chinese Economic News Service (via MacRumors) out this morning, Citigroup Global Markets analyst J.T. Hsu believes TSMC will become the sole supplier of quad-core mobile chips for iOS devices that should be fabbed on TSMC’s 20nm process:

Citigroup Global Markets’ market research fellow, J.T. Hsu, pointed out that Apple began verifying TSMC’s 20nm process in August this year and may begin risk production in November with the process.

Volume production is expected to start in the fourth quarter of 2013, raising the possibility that TSMC will hike capital expenditure to US$11-12 billion in 2013 and 2014.

Apple is thought to have opted for TSMC because of its “unmatched technological advance on 20nm process”. Currently, Apple’s chips are fabbed on Samsung’s 32nm CMOS process.

Moving to a more precise manufacturing process results in smaller transistors that reduce the chip’s footprint, yielding less heat dissipation, more efficient energy consumption and faster speeds since electrons cover shorter distances.

What’s really, really interesting is this bit:

Hsu estimated Apple to design quad-core processors into iPad, iTV and even Macbook. iPhones will be still powered by duo-core processors to highlight its low power consumption merit.

The report goes on to note that iPhones will be still powered by duo-core processors due to power consumption concerns.

Now, Apple’s long been rumored to be looking to make a switch from Intel to its own ARM-based processors for either the entire MacBook lineup or just Airs, or perhaps a brand new Mac notebook based on CPU blueprints from London-based ARM Holdings plc.

Since ARM leads the industry in terms of power efficiency, an ARM-based Apple notebook would feature an all-day long battery. Currently, your MacBook Air’s battery would take you only halfway through your workday, as opposed to iPads that boast a ten-hour battery.


Is Apple developing an ARM-based MacBook with all-day batter?

The news likely means that Apple is moving to drop Samsung, currently an exclusive manufacturer of Apple-designed A4/A5/A6 chips found in iOS devices.

Samsung is producing these chips in its Austin, Texas facility and recently announced an investment of $4 billion to renovate the facility in order to boost production of ARM-based chips for Apple. Apple accounts for an estimated 8.8 percent of Samsung’s revenue.

Yesterday, news broke that Apple poached a star Samsung chip designer who now works for Apple’s in-house semiconductor team. Apple’s been hiring chip experts left and right lately, indicating its desire to plunge much deeper into custom chip design.

Meanwhile, Samsung isn’t standing still and has been doubling down on silicon engineering in order to better compete with Apple. Just recently, Samsung ponied up $310 million for the mobile business of Cambridge Silicon Radio PLC, based out in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

In the fierce battle for smartphone supremacy, custom chip designs are increasingly becoming the main hardware differentiator versus other vendors who just take off-the-shelf chips, without adapting them to their own needs (which doesn’t come cheap).

For example, the A6 chip inside the iPhone 5 owes much of its speed and power efficiency to heavy customizations on Apple’s part. In fact, it files as the world’s first phone powered by ARM’s Cortex A15 CPU platform.

According to a teardown analysis, the A6 package boasts two ARM-based Cortex-A15 cores and three PowerVR graphics units. Geekbench and SunSpider benchmarks suggest it’s the fastest mobile chip currently on the market.

The company has been bolstering its internal team of semiconductor experts over the years by acquiring fabless chip makers PA Semi, Intrinsity, Anobit and recently smart sensor maker AuthenTec.

What do you think, will Apple be better off taking its chip contract to TSMC?

Moving to a different fabbing process equals to a brain transplant.

Will Apple regret the decision?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=604885391 Richard Borkovec

    The A6 is based on the ARM A15 the same way the Snapdragon Krait cores are based on it, but it’s not the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, this is good that Apple is designing their own cores again so the OS is fully optimized for the hardware, but can we stop calling it something it’s not?

    Also, I don’t see why they’re holding back on keeping the iPhone to two cores, even with the battery. What happened to those thin batteries that NEC designed? And the ARM processor would certainly help with the power consumption. hopefully this is the beginning of a new wave of ARM powered, but fully customized, chips.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lgasparjnr Laszlo Gaspar

    Give it a few years and phones and tablets will be using desktop CPU’s.

    • http://twitter.com/Jack_maredit Jackson Grong

      Never, battery would last nothing, however they will be almost as powerful :D

    • ReanimationXP

      More like desktops will be using ARM cpu’s.

  • CollegiateLad

    “Geekbench and SunSpider benchmarks suggest it’s the fastest mobile chip currently on the market.”
    Wow, good job Apple. Hurry up and show the world how to really unleash a quad core processor – Cant wait!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Johannes.Mertens Johannes Mertens

    When it Comes to ARM in Macbooks People always forget to think About Software Compability. Like on Windows 8 ARM Nearly every Piece of Software Would Need to be Rebuilt to be compatible… Its Not that Easy with ARM Macbooks.

    • ReanimationXP

      With Apple’s limited supply of hardware, an adequate emulator would be easily achievable. Think iPhone Simulator, only in reverse, and built into OSX. Windows 8 will also have an ARM flavor.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Johannes.Mertens Johannes Mertens

        Oh Yeah Emulating iMovie, GarageBand or Photshop ist a Good idea ;-) all Based on native SSE Support. Also Apple Would Never Come up with a MacBook which Runs Certain Apps Emulated only.

  • http://twitter.com/Jack_maredit Jackson Grong

    I was hoping for Quad-Core A7 in the 2013 iPad 4 gen.
    :(

    • http://twitter.com/iMosa3da iMosa3da

      A6X chip for iPad 4th gen is OK :)

  • http://twitter.com/intelxtreme Khan

    android already has faster quadcore android already releasing quadcore soon and apple is gonna produce in 2014

  • ReanimationXP

    All of this is based of a rumor from an economic advisor for Citigroup? Since when is that a reliable source? Citibank panders credit cards to college students and is probably the most devious credit company out there.. not putting much faith in their rumors.

    Also, Apple can make last-minute changes to products. Why would they be leaking information on what they’re going to do 2 years from now?