Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo pointed out on Twitter today that the public roadmap for TSMC’s silicon processes indicates that its 3-nanometer and 4-nanometer fabs will not be available for mass production until 2023.
This is another indication that the A16 chip coming with the iPhone 14 will continue to use a 5-nanometer fabrication process. This is on top of the fact that we believe that only higher-end models of the iPhone 14 will feature an A16 chip inside; the base models will continue to use the A15 chip.
This claim was previously made by ShrimpApplePro on Twitter.
Sticking to the same fabrication level generally limits the possible performance and power efficiency gains for that generation. However, the A15 chip still delivered reasonable ~10% performance and efficiency improvements over the A14 chip, whilst also sharing the same 5nm node.
Kuo has been fairly pessimistic on Apple’s chip upgrade roadmap in general. He has also said that the new next-generation MacBook Air set to be announced this fall will continue to use the same M1 chip as the current model. A faster, truly more advanced, ‘M2’ chip may not be available until next year.
Of course, Apple could make only minor tweaks to the current chip and use a different name, like M2, to juice sales for marketing purposes.
It is atypical for the iPhone chip to use the same process size for three years in a row. Apple’s chips have typically been at the cutting-edge of process node transitions, which has been one key way that they have been able to stay ahead of the competition when it comes to performance. However, it seems this year it is TSMC — Apple’s chip silicon manufacturing partner — that is unable to push the technology boundary, perhaps due to the ongoing chip shortages.
It also does not seem likely that any other smartphone fabs will also be able to offer sub-5nm manufacturing this year.
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