If you ask Apple about its recently refreshed 10.5-inch iPad Pro tablet, the Cupertino outfit will tell you that it is more powerful than most PC laptops, a bold claim to be sure. That is largely due to the custom A10X Fusion processor that is tucked inside. It is actually a pretty impressive piece of silicon, and one of a small number of chips being designed on a 10-nanometer manufacturing process.
Andy Wei at TechInsights took a microscope to the A10X Fusion chip, which it reports is being produced by TSMC on a 10nm FinFET process. What is especially interesting about the design is that the die size is considerably smaller than the previous generation A9X SoC—it measures just 96.4mm2, down from 143.9mm2 on the A9X, which was built on TSMC's 16nm FinFET Turbo technology.
"We estimate a 45 percent die level scale (0.55x the area of running on the previous technology), based on our detailed floor plan analyses of the Apple A-series," Wei says.
As impressive as the A10X Fusion processor is, it could have actually been better if not for a delay. Originally it was rumored that Apple's refreshed iPad Pro would launch in March, which would line up with TSMC's "Night Hawk" program with a stated goal of beating Samsung to 10nm. However, Samsung actually got there first with silicon built on its 10nm LPE (Low Power Early) process for the Galaxy S8.
TSMC's ramp to a 10nm FinFET process has been slower than expected, especially with the chipmaker's plan to transition to a 7nm FinFET process as quickly as possible. With that being the case, the A10X could have delivered even more performance and better power efficiency had TSMC been able make the leap to 7nm sooner, but that will have to wait until 2018.
Even so, TSMC is in a good place. While it gets ready to make the jump to 7nm, both Samsung and Intel are expected to remain at 10nm for quite some time, at least comparatively speaking.