DigiTimes: Samsung receives orders for 14nm Apple A9 chip

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Kicking Samsung out of the supply chain for Apple-designed iPhone and iPad processors may be easier said than done.

For years now Apple’s attempted to kickstart mass production of these chips at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest independent semiconductor foundry, to no avail.

As TSMC continues to cope with yield issues, technological hurdles and scale, rival Samsung is said to have landed orders for Apple’s A9 processor set to appear inside next year’s iPhone and iPad devices.

According to a new report by DigiTimes, the somewhat accurate Taiwanese trade publication, the sophisticated microprocessor will be fabbed on Samsung’s advanced 14-nanometer process technology, albeit not exclusively…

By comparison, the current A7 chip inside the iPad Air, iPad mini with Retina display and iPhone 5s is being built on Samsung’s high-κ metal gate (HKMG) 28 nm process

DigiTimes writes that Samsung will build A9 chips at the Fab 8 facility, located in Malta, New York and operated by GlobalFoundries.

The 14nm products will be rolled out from Samsung’s Fab 8 in New York, said the sources, adding that Fab 8 will have an installed capacity of 60,000 wafers a month for the 14nm process.

Samsung and GlobalFoundries are said to start A9 production next year.

DigiTimes previously reported that TSMC will account for the bulk of 14nm Apple A9 chips in 2015 and today’s report reinforces that notion, saying that TSMC will advance into 16nm FinFET processes and roll out a 16nm FinFET Turbo process specifically tailored to Apple’s requirements.

This means the iPhone maker will spread orders between Samsung and TSMC, a wise move on Apple’s part which helps mitigate risk stemming from exposure to a single supplier.

The report somewhat surprisingly mentions Intel, now an ARM licensee, as a possible contender for the orders, the sources noted. As revealed last November, Samsung sub-contracted GlobalFoundries to help build Apple chips, providing the backup location when needed.

Not only does this standardize mobile chip production around the same 14nm FinFET process technology, it gives Apple the flexibility to build its chips at both Samsung/GlobalFoundries and TSMC, which was previously impossible due to the foundries’ incompatible production processes.

Moving from the current 28nm process to a smaller 14nm process technology will yield additional power savings as smaller transistors require less power while reducing total heat dissipation.