Apple, Intel could be first adopters of TSMC’s 3nm chip tech

Apple could use TSMC's 3nm in a future iPad while Intel reportedly plans to use it in notebooks and server CPUs

TSMC logo with Intel, Apple in the background

Both Apple and Intel reportedly plan to be first adopters of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.’s next-generation three nanometre (nm) chips.

According to Nikkei Asia, both companies are testing chip designs using TSMC’s 3nm production tech. Apple testing the 3nm tech shouldn’t come as much of a surprise — the company has used TSMC to manufacture many of its chips, including most recently the A14 and M1.

Intel, on the other hand, stands out. The company typically makes its own chips, but ongoing difficulties with getting its 7nm production tech up and running (it now won’t be ready until 2023) have resulted in Intel losing market share to competitors like AMD, which uses TSMC’s 5nm production tech for its Ryzen CPUs. This marks the first time Intel will outsource the manufacturing of its core products.

According to TSMC, its 3nm tech can increase computing performance by 10 to 15 percent and reduce power consumption by 25 to 30 percent compared to its 5nm. The nanometre measurement refers to the width between transistors on a computer chip — the smaller that number is, the more advanced the chip. However, shrinking the nanometres also makes manufacturing chips more challenging and expensive.

Nikkei Asia reports that Apple will likely offer the first devices with 3nm chips, probably in its iPads. The 2021 iPhone line — likely the iPhone 13 series — is expected to use an intermediate 4nm production due to scheduling reasons. It’s not clear whether the 3nm iPad will be a ‘Pro’ model. The iPad Pro models recently switched to using Apple’s M1 chip. Presumably, future devices will also use M-series chips, which means Apple could have a 3nm M-series chip in the works.

As for Intel, Nikkei Asia says the company is working with TSMC on at least two 3nm projects to make CPUs for notebooks and data centre servers. These new chips are part of an effort from Intel to retake lost market share. On the notebook side, AMD’s excellent Ryzen CPUs have propelled the company from 11 percent of notebook market share in 2019 to over 20 percent last year. On the server-side, Nvidia announced earlier this year that it will move into the server chip market — its first server CPU will use TSMC’s 5nm tech and will be available by early 2023.

Source: Nikkei Asia