TSMC 7nm FinFet plans give a big hint about Apple’s future iPhone chips, possibly MacBooks too
A seemingly innocuous statement published about TSMC’s new 7nm FinFet fabrication process on its website could have spilled the beans on Apple’s future plans for its ARM-based A-series chips. According to the Taiwanese semiconductor fabricator, switching to its new 7nm process will deliver inherent gains of at least 20 percent in performance and up to 40 percent gains in efficiency. As the manufacturer of Apple’s A-series chips, that gives us a big clue as to what to expect from the A12 that should make its appearance in the next generation of iPhones due in September.
In other words, even if Apple didn’t do any architectural enhancements on its A11 Bionic microarchitecture, the die shrink alone would deliver performance improvements outlined above. However, unlike Intel, (which has favored a “tick-tock” development cycle that has typically seen an architectural overhaul every second generation in favor of simply a opting for a die shrink and the inherent performance gains that brings), Apple has introduced a new microarchitecture with each new A-series iteration. You can expect that the next-generation Apple A12 chip will continue maintain its lead in mobile chip speed and efficiency.
Perhaps even more intriguingly, TSMC let slip one additional detail that on its own seems somewhat inconsequential; that it has developed two 7nm FinFet tracks, one optimized for mobile, and the other “for high performance computing applications.” This could be the biggest clue yet that Apple is planning on introducing at least one MacBook in the near future based on its custom A-series ARM chips instead of Intel’s x86 silicon. While ARM chips feature in some server designs, it would not surprise to see Apple bring the mac OS to ARM, much as Microsoft has tried to do with Windows 10 on ARM, for the substantial battery efficiency gains it brings.
This is the statement from TSMC:
Compared to its 10nm FinFET process, TSMC's 7nm FinFET features 1.6X logic density, ~20% speed improvement, and ~40% power reduction. TSMC set another industry record by launching two separate 7nm FinFET tracks: one optimized for mobile applications, the other for high performance computing applications.