TSMC cannot meet the entire Apple M1 order volume, Samsung could jump to the rescue
Apple recently revealed its first laptop processor developed in-house and all preliminary benchmarks point towards a solid 10 W alternative to all the existing Intel and AMD ULV CPUs, even threatening some higher-TDP models. Together with the A14 Bionic SoC powering the new iPhone 12 smartphones, the M1 processor with custom ARM cores is among the first chips to integrate 5 nm transistors produced on the TSMC N5 nodes. Apple has been exclusively collaborating with TSMC since 2015, and the Cupertino giant even secured future 2 nm chip production with the Taiwaneze foundries. However, it looks like TSMC might have reached the limits of its current 5 nm production capacity, so Apple could be forced to seek the help of other foundries to meet the projected M1 order volume.
Researchers working for NH Investment & Securities are reporting for Business Korea that Samsung is the most likely candidate to take on the unmet M1 orders from TSMC. Besides the Taiwanese foundries, Samsung is the only other chip producer that has functional 5 nm nodes right now, yet these new nodes are rumored to have quite abysmal yields for the time being. TSMC is already using most of its 5 nm capacity to produce A14 Bionic SoCs, and the M1 chip production is supposed to account for around 25% of the 5 nm capacity. The problem is TSMC’s 5 nm nodes are not even firing on all cylinders at this point in time, so a large part of the M1 chip production is currently on hold. Apple certainly cannot afford to delay things too much and will be forced to ask Samsung to step in.
Prior to 2015, Apple used to employ Samsung, as well as TSMC for SoC production. By the middle of the last decade, however, Apple realized that TSMC’s packaging technology is clearly superior, plus it also felt awkward collaborating with one of its direct smartphone competitors. It will be interesting to see how a new Apple - Samsung collaboration can proceed now that Apple is planning to emerge as an important player on the laptop and desktop processor market.