A16 Bionic: TSMC gears up to produce first 3nm chips for future iPhone

Ready to see the A14 look like old hat?
Screenshot: Apple

Apple’s A14 chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) is gearing up for “risk production” of its next-gen chips, Digitimes reported Friday.

The chips in question are TSMC’s 3-nanometer chips, expected to be the eventual successor to the current 5-nanometer chips. Risk production refers to the dress rehearsal process for manufacturing, in which things appear ready to go, but are not quite ready to go into mass production just yet.

The 3nm process risk production will take place in 2021. After this, volume production will reportedly follow in the second half of 2022. That would presumably be ready for that year’s iPhone refresh, which in recent years have adopted a new nanometer production process every couple of years. (This would make it the A16 Bionic.)

“Our N3 technology development is on track, with good progress,” TSMC’s CEO, CC Wei, said in an earnings call on January 14. “We are seeing a much higher level of customer engagement for both HPC and smartphone application at N3 as compared with N5 and N7 at a similar stage.”

TSMC completed construction on a new plant that will manufacture its 3-nanometer chipsets in November.

Onto the next one

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. A good analogy is writing with a sharp pencil compared to a blunt one. In both cases you can write information, but a sharp pencil is far more efficient than a blunt one. Apple’s current A14 Bionic chips have 11.8 billion transistors, an increase of approximately 38%. Apple’s previous A13 Bionic chip, by comparison, had 23% more transistors than the A12.

While more transistors isn’t the only way to indicate performance increases, the number indicates how many operations a device can carry out per second.

This week, TSMC reported its quarterly earnings. These suggest that the iPhone 12 has been a big hit for Apple — and TSMC in the process.

Source: Digitimes