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Production of 3nm chips for 2022 Apple devices to ramp up this year

Faster and more power-efficient chips are on track to launch next year. According to a new report, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, or TSMC, is slated to begin production on a new 3nm process later this year, with volume production to commence in 2022.

The new 3nm chips could arrive in products like the A-series processors on Apple’s iPhones and iPads as well as the M series chipsets on new, next-generation Macs, including a MacBook Pro. This information corroborates earlier leaks suggesting that Apple could migrate its products to 3nm chips in 2022.

Apple’s current M1 processor, found on the Mac Mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro, is among the first to utilize a 5nm process, allowing the Cupertino, California tech giant to claim strong performance gains while extending battery life on mobile devices even further compared to older products based on processors from Intel.

Moving from the 5nm chipset today to a 3nm process next year could give new devices up to 30% better battery efficiency and 15% performance improvements compared to the M1 Macs. Apple already claims up to 20 hours of battery life on the 5nm-based M1-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro today, for reference.

Because of Apple’s commitment to purchase silicon produced by TSMC’s fabs, the company has committed to expand manufacturing of its 3nm chips to 55,000 units in 2022, according to MacRumors, citing a paywalled DigiTimes report. And TSMC could scale the production rate even further to 105,000 units a month in 2023.

In addition to working on building out capacity for the next-generation 3nm process, TSMC is also making more 5nm wafers to meet global demand. The company plans to make 105,000 wafers for 5nm chips per month for the first half of 2021, up from 15,000 wafers monthly in the fourth quarter of last year. In the second half of the year, TSMC could expand to 120,000 wafers monthly and reach 160,000 wafers monthly by 2024, the same report noted. These chips not only serve Apple, but other clients including AMD, Marvell, Broadcom, and Qualcomm.

With TSMC expanding chip manufacturing capacity, there’s hope that shortages in the CPU and GPU space will begin to ease up, particularly with Ryzen processors and Radeon graphics from AMD, though this current silicon is based on a 7nm process. In addition to making processors and graphics cards for PCs, AMD also makes its chips available for consoles, so a boost in TSMC production yields could help keep the hard-to-find Microsoft Xbox Series X and Sony PlayStation 5 in stock on store shelves.

When it comes to the next-generation iPhone — referred to as the iPhone 13 series according to current leaks — Apple could be using an enhanced 5nm node called 5nm+. The N5P node could help Apple squeeze additional efficiency and performance out of the 5nm node before it transitions to 3nm. It’s believed, however, that Apple could use a 4nm node from TSMC before migrating to 3nm.

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Chuong Nguyen
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