They are already here. Apple launched its first M2 processor at the beginning of June 2022, and since then we await the arrival of the Pro and Max versions of this chip with the curiosity of those who hope to find out. if they really measure up. We won’t know until we get our hands on one of the new MacBook Pros or Mac minis, but on paper and sticking to the performance of previous M-family chips in our tests, these M2s look good.
Like the original M2 processor, the M2 Pro and Max have been manufactured using the second generation 5nm integration technology developed by TSMC. This is certainly a highly advanced lithograph, but it’s not the most sophisticated this Taiwanese semiconductor maker has on its hands. Its most ambitious node with the ability to produce high-integration chips on a large scale is the N3B (3nm), and we can be reasonably sure that Apple’s next chips will come from it.
The first ICs produced by TSMC on a large scale on its second generation 3nm node (N3E) are Alphawave’s ZeusCORE100. They are advanced integrated circuits that implement several next-generation standards, such as 800G Ethernet, PCI Express 6.0 or CXL 3.0, among others. But Apple waits a short distance away, crouched. It is TSMC’s best client (in 2021, 26% of its revenue came from the Cupertino brand), and the Asian media take for granted what we can consider an open secret: the M3 chips will make the leap to 3-inch lithography nm.
TSMC has anticipated what we can expect from its 3nm nodes
At the end of last December, this company began large-scale manufacturing of chips in its 3nm node (N3B). Morris Chang and Mark Liu, who are the founder and president of this company respectively, had promised that before the end of 2022 they would start mass-producing 3nm integrated circuits, and they have fulfilled it. We still do not know for sure which company has commissioned these first chips, but what we do know is that Apple will occupy this node in the short term.
Some of TSMC’s customers are not willing to pay the more than $20,000 for a 3nm chip wafer
In fact, various media and organizations in China and Taiwan, such as MyDrivers or China Renaissance, defend that TSMC is considering reducing the price of the wafers it is producing in its N3B node because AMD, NVIDIA, Qualcomm and MediaTek, who are some of your best customers, are not willing to pay the over $20,000 the cost of a chip wafer made using this lithograph. What’s more, some of these media ensure that for the moment only Apple has committed to using this node with TSMC. And it is believable.
Despite everything, it seems that the Taiwanese chipmaker is optimistic about the revenue it will receive during 2023 through its 3nm nodes:
“We expect the N3 revenue in 2023 to be higher than N5 revenue in its first year in 2020.”
so…yeah, there will be some quantity of N3 chips available for the world in CY23 even if you bake in higher per-wafer pricing. For one major TSMC customer in particular. https://t.co/efdjZ2lx1j
— AAPL Tree (@AAPLTree) January 17, 2023
Whatever happens, we can be reasonably sure that Apple’s M3 processors, and, according to Nikkei Asia, the A17 Bionic as well, will be manufactured using TSMC’s enhanced 3nm photolithography. Interestingly, this manufacturer of highly integrated semiconductors has already anticipated some of the properties of its most advanced lithography. And this, in some way, invites us to get a rough idea about what we can expect from the processors that will be produced in this node. And this includes upcoming Apple chips.
The N3E node, according to TSMC, delivers a switching speed 18% higher than the N5 node while maintaining the same consumption
The N3E node, according to TSMC, delivers a switching speed 18% higher than the N5 node while maintaining the same consumption. Or it can maintain the same speed as the latter, but reducing consumption by 34%. In addition, this technology manages to multiply the transistor density of the N5 node by 1.7. That doesn’t sound bad, though TSMC isn’t the only chipmaker to achieve this status; Samsung is also producing 3nm ICs, promising 23% higher performance and nearly twice the efficiency of its 5nm process.
We’ll see how Apple’s new M2 Pro and Max chips fare when we get a chance to fully test one of the devices that bet on them, but in all likelihood, the M3 chips will take a significant step forward. They will have in their favor the improvements introduced by TSMC in its 3nm lithography, and it is reasonable to anticipate that Apple will take the opportunity to refine its microarchitecture and introduce changes to it that will seek to increase the performance per watt of these CPUs. Our next appointment with the M family processors will be interesting.
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