Apple And Intel Are Racing To Deliver Next-Gen 3nm Chips In 2022 Thanks To TSMC

TSMC Semiconductor
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is not having any trouble finding clients for its advanced 3-nanometer node technology. A couple of industry giants have already reportedly tapped TSMC to fabricate 3nm silicon for them, including Apple, which will inject them first into an upcoming lineup of iPad tablets, and Intel.

Generally speaking, smaller nodes translate to better performance and power efficiency, along with other potential benefits that are baked into the silicon. Of course, it is a bit more complicated than that—when comparing nodes from two different manufacturers, it is not as simple as saying the smaller number is a better one.

Be that as it may, TSMC is major fabrication outfit and supplies silicon for a wide range of clients. As for the shift to 3nm, TSMC claims it delivers a 10-15 percent performance gain over its 5nm node, and reduces power consumption by 25-30 percent. Those are impressive gains, albeit fairly standard when a new architecture on a smaller node is introduced.

Apple has an almost insatiable demand for silicon, givin the popularity of its mobile devices. It is said both Apple and Intel are testing their chip designs with TSMC's 3nm node, with Apple's iPad lineup set to be the first beneficiary. Apple's next generation iPhone devices due out next year, meanwhile, will make use of 4nm silicon.

Then there is Intel, the biggest chip maker in the United States. Intel has fallen behind AMD in process technology, and it brought in Pat Gelsinger to serve as CEO and right the ship. Gelsinger recently outlined an ambitious plan for Intel's resurgence, which entails both making more chips for other clients, and sourcing silicon from third-party foundries, like TSMC.

As it applies to the latter, Intel is said to be leveraging TSMC's 3nm manufacturing for mobile CPUs destined for laptops, and data center processors. The data center is an especially important category because of how lucrative it is, and Intel is hoping to regain some of the market share it has lost to AMD with its EPYC lineup.

"Currently the chip volume planned for Intel is more than that for Apple's iPad using the 3-nanometer process," a source told Nikkei Asia.

While all this going on, the industry at large is facing a chip shortage, which has impacted several different segments (computer CPUs and GPUs, automobile silicon, dedicated game console hardware, and more). Intel and TSMC are both investing billions of dollars into new and upgraded fabs, but it will take some time for those investments to have an impact on supply.

Same goes for this collaboration with TSMC. Apparently Intel confirmed to the site that it is collaborating with TSMC on processor designs for products that will be out in 2023, but stopped short of saying it is 3nm technology.