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Apple devices to be powered by highly efficient 3nm chips starting in 2022

Apple is expected to move to a 3nm process for all its new processors in 2022, and early performance estimates look promising. Apple’s 2022 iPhone, iPad, and Mac chips could be up to 33% faster than today’s models — which already sport among the fastest silicon on the market. The 2022 chips are also said to consume up to 50% less power.

Apple’s ARM-based A-series silicon currently powers the iPhone and iPad tablets, and will soon be headed to the Mac — all of which will benefit from the increased efficiency. Apple relies on partner TSMC, or Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, to actually manufacture these custom-made processors. At the annual Technology Symposium, TSMC outlined its manufacturing road map, revealing plans to arrive at a 3nm process by 2022.

TSMC is already expected to deliver its smaller 5nm manufacturing process this year on the A14 chip featured in the upcoming iPhone 12, expected to launch this fall. According to a report on AnandTech, the smaller 5nm node on the upcoming A14 processor could deliver a performance gain of up to 15% and a 30% reduction in power consumption, though it will ultimately be up to Apple to design its custom processors to optimize between these two factors.

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At its simplest, a change in process node means more transistors, which is where that extra power and efficiency comes from. Historically, Apple often prioritized performance gains over reduced battery consumption with each successive processor generation, according to a MacRumors report, so improvements to battery life may be negligible if Apple continues to follow the same strategy. Apple also offers slightly different variations of its processors in the same generation. with optimizations and tuning targeted at specific devices.

For example, the iPhone with a smaller battery capacity could have silicon optimized for reduced battery consumption, while the iPad, which the company had previously positioned as a PC replacement, could be optimized for better performance. Theoretically, with MacBooks having larger batteries and optimized TDP, Apple could further double down on performance gains as it tries to outmaneuver Intel and AMD in the space for desktops and laptops.

As it moves from the 5nm-based A14 processor to a 3nm A16 processor in 2022, we can expect to see similar gains according to TSMC’s chart. Similar to the move from 7nm to 5nm, we can expect up to a 30% reduction in power consumption and up to a gain of 15% in performance when Apple moves from the A13 to the A14 chipset. A cumulative reduction of 50% power consumption in a span of two years will give Intel-powered laptops some serious competition when it comes to battery life.

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Chuong Nguyen
Silicon Valley-based technology reporter and Giants baseball fan who splits his time between Northern California and Southern…
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