The iPhone 14 could get a big boost in speed and without shortened battery life, thanks to TSMC’s N3 manufacturing process that’s on track for 2022.
Apple It is constantly designing mobile processors for the iPhone that offer best-in-class performance and low power consumption, and by 2022, the company will likely be using a system-on-a-chip (SoC) that is manufactured at a 3-nanometer scale. Doing so will enable more advanced capabilities while further extending battery life. The reduced footprint allows more transistors to be packed onto the chip, allowing specialized components to perform common tasks faster than the core processor.
Apple’s A14 SoC uses a 5-nanometer manufacturing process that alone provided an improvement of up to 15 percent in speed or a 30 percent decrease in power consumption. That new chip powers the iPhone 12 and iPad Air 4, both of which made huge performance gains over the previous generation A13, and without any loss of battery life. Apple does this year after year, with each successive generation increasing single-core speed by roughly 20 percent. This is quite significant, as any task will benefit from that performance metric. The other method of speeding up, adding extra cores, helps with some processes, but it doesn’t provide the same system-wide improvement that makes everything more streamlined.
Digitimes monitors supply chain information and recently reported that TSMC, the maker of chips that Apple has used for several years, is on track to mass produce chips using an N3 process node. This is described as offering a performance increase of up to 15 percent or up to 30 percent more energy efficiency compared to the current N5 node. This can be adjusted according to Apple’s preferences, choosing to use it for better speed or longer battery life. The 3-nanometer scale offers a 70 percent denser design, so more transistors can be packed into the same space, or the chip size can be smaller for an equal number of transistors. Meanwhile, node N4, which stands for in a 4-nanometer manufacturing process, will soon begin to enter risk production.
N5P, N4, and N3 node chips on Apple devices
The ‘risk’ designation that TSMC has now applied to its N4 process means that it is unlikely to be ready for mass production by the end of 2021. This testing phase generally takes months. The A15 is expected to power the iPhone 13 and the M1X rumored to make its way to the next MacBook Pro later this year will likely use an improved 5-nanometer process. Known as N5P, it uses the same manufacturing scale and therefore doesn’t get an automatic speed boost that N4 and N3 will have compared to N5. However, Apple can optimize and create specialized components and add more cores to achieve significant performance gains with N5P. Looking ahead to 2022, there will likely be 4 nanometers, unless Apple goes straight to 3 nanometers.
Any MacBook and desktop Mac released in 2022 will use the best technology available at that time. Since Apple sometimes releases computers at the beginning of the year, the first batch may use N4 node technology, while the N3 process is more likely for year-end announcements. The iPad has a similar schedule, sometimes in the first half of the year, sometimes at the end of the year event. If Apple releases a new iPad Pro in early 2022, it may come with an SoC using the N4 node. By the second half of 2022, 3 nanometer chips should be available for mass production and the future iPhone 14 will likely feature an N3 A16 process, continuing the steady progression of even more powerful and durable smartphones. With Apple’s unified architecture, all the devices it makes will benefit as the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and even the Apple Watch use chips based on the same design.
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