Apple’s next-generation mobile processor that will power this year’s iPhone and iPad models, tentatively named “A14 Bionic”, will reportedly enter mass production in the second quarter of this year, in time for new iPhones in September.
According to trade publication DigiTimes, Apple’s existing semiconductor manufacturer Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) will remain its sole foundry partner for the chips for the upcoming iPhone and iPad models to be released this year.
Volume production using TSMC’s 5-nanometer extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) process will kick off by the end of the second quarter.
As much as two-thirds of TSMC’s available 5-nanometer process capacity will be utilized to make the next-generation iPhone chips, the report said, citing sources at fab toolmakers. TSMC has already moved its 5-nanometer process technology to risk production. HiSilicon is reportedly the other initial customer of TSMC’s 5-nanometer process.
This year’s A12 Bionic chips, as well as last year’s A11 Bionic, are being fabricated on TSMC’s current 7-nanometer process. In fact, the current iPhones file as the first smartphones powered by 7-nanometer processors. DigiTimes reported in February 2019 that TSMC invested $25 billion in volume production of the upcoming 5-nanometer chips.
Here’s a quick overview of semiconductor process technologies that were used in the production of Apple-designed chips during the last few years:
- Apple A7: Samsung HKMG 28nm
- Apple A8: TSMC 20nm
- Apple A9: TSMC 16nm FinFET, Samsung 14nm FinFET
- Apple A10 Fusion: TSMC 16nm FinFET
- Apple A11 Bionic: TSMC 10nm FinFET
- Apple A12 Bionic: TSMC 7nm FinFET
- Apple A13 Bionic: TSMC 7nm FinFET
Adopting an even more precise 5-nanometer technology would further reduce die size because of even smaller transistors, gates, power lines and other components. The smaller components should allow the chip to run faster because the electrons would need to travel shorter distance, reducing heat dissipation and improving power performance as a result.
Apple could debut the A14 in the next iPad Pro, which could have a mini-LED screen, a glass panel on the back, 3D sensing cameras and release as early as this spring. Something like that wouldn’t be unusual for Apple because the A4 processor, its first in-house designed system-on-a-chip, originally appeared in the first iPad before making its way in the iPhone 4.
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