Surprise! Apple Awarding 20nm Fab Requirements to TSMC, Samsung Out

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News Posted: Sat, Oct 13 2012 1:45 PM

It's been proven time and time again that Apple and Samsung are not on the best of terms, but despite that, Apple has still relied on Samsung for certain production up to this point. That Apple A6 under the hood of the latest iPhone (which we reviewed here)? It's built by Samsung, using its High-K Metal Gate process. As switching fabs isn't something that happens overnight, no one expected the shift to be quick, but it did seem to be inevitable.

Hot on the heels of the news that Apple has snagged one of Samsung's prized designers comes a rumor initiated by the Chinese Economic News Service which claims Apple will soon be making the move to TSMC for its fab needs. Although Apple has worked with Samsung for quite a number of years, the company isn't taking much of a risk with the move. TSMC has been responsible for chips produced by Qualcomm, VIA, Marvell and even NVIDIA. In fact, the company currently plays a major role in the mobile market, and with Apple joining the fray, that fact is only cemented further.


Apple A6 die shot, courtesy of iFixit and Chipworks

It's being said that Apple's first order of business will be the production of 20nm quad-core chips - but as production is not set to start until at least Q4 2013, it's somewhat unlikely that these chips will make an appearence in the "iPad 4", given that there has been a new iPad every year since the release of the original.

Things won't stop with the iPad, however. Other potential products include the iTV and possibly, even the MacBook. As Apple has a major focus on battery-life for its iPhone, it's unlikely that these quad-core chips will make an introduction there anytime soon.

With this move, Apple also stands to save up to 10% per chip produced, which is attributed to Samsung's supposed inefficiency. Will that result in lower-cost iPhones? Not likely - 10% off of a $15 chip isn't ground-breaking, though when you consider that Apple can easily sell millions of units, its pockets do stand to benefit.

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Schmich replied on Sat, Oct 13 2012 7:53 PM

There's always a risk with smaller processes. Nvidia had pretty bad problems with TMSC on 28nm with their 6xx series cards for example.

It will be interesting to see what happens with all the fabs - TMSC, Globalfoundries and Samsung - if anyone run into trouble or if the technology is even better than expected. Samsung is working with IBM on its fabs and apparently they're moving pretty fast onto 14nm (20nm first like everyone else though) so that could get interesting. Even so for Nvidia if Samsung opens its doors to replace Apple.

Meanwhile Intel is 1-2years ahead of everybody else which might hit the smartphone chip business hard now that Intel is actually delivering competitive and complete SOCs.

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mhenriday replied on Sun, Oct 14 2012 11:42 AM

Here a link to what I presume is the original article. It will be interesting to follow this and see how it works out....

Henri

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