by Anton Shilov
01/03/2013 | 08:26 PM
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. is set to start experimental production of chips for Apple already this quarter, according to a media report. The collaboration between the world’s largest contract maker of chips and the major consumer electronics company was widely expected, but it was suggested that the two firms will only team up sometimes in late 2013 – early 2014 timeframe.
TSMC will produce Apple A6X application processor with two Apple Swift general-purpose cores (believed to be derived from ARM Cortex-A15, ARMv7-compatible), PowerVR SGX 554MP4 graphics sub-system with four GPU domains as well as dual-channel LPDDR2 memory controller. According to Commercial Times, TSMC utilizes one of its 28nm process technologies to produce the system-on-chips for Apple, most probably HKMG-based CLN28HPL or CLN28HPM versions.
Since TSMC uses gate-last approach to high-K metal gate technology (HKMG), it is unlikely that the A6X chips produced using 28nm at TSMC will be considerably smaller [and hence cheaper to make] compared to A6X application processors made by Samsung Electronics using 32nm (32LP) fabrication process as the latter uses gate-first HKMG approach to minimize die size. Had Apple wanted to lower power consumption or improve performance of A6X, it would have chosen Samsung’s 28LPP or 28LPH manufacturing technologies, especially due to remarkably simple migration path from Samsung’s 32LP node. Considering the lack of major advantages TSMC can provide Apple at the moment, the production is just an experiment, which should show Apple advantages and disadvantages of working with TSMC in general.
Based on the results of the trial production of A6X application processors at TSMC, Apple will likely make its decisions about further options in regards of contract chip manufacturing. Apple presently produces all of its SoCs at Samsung Electronics, which has never let the company down, but which is its major rival on the market of smartphones and tablets. TSMC does not compete with Apple, but it has too many large customers (AMD, Nvidia, Qualcomm, etc.) who demand high-volumes of chips produced using leading-edge process technology that Apple should better think twice before relying completely on TSMC, who had problems fulfilling production demands in the past.
Apple and TSMC did not comment on the news-story.