The next-gen 5nm chips are coming to iPhones later this year

The next-gen 5nm chips are coming to iPhones later this year
Smartphone chips are a feat of engineering. In a space smaller than the size of a quarter are crammed not only all the essential computing modules but RAM and even modems as well. Despite what your experience with smartphone battery life might lead you to believe, these chips are actually extremely efficient at doing their job. And this year, things will get much better!

Coming from the Chinese media Commercial Times via DigiTimes is a report that TSMC, one of the world’s largest chip manufacturers, will start producing 5nm system chips for Apple in Q2 of 2020. That might not sound like important news for you, after all, TSMC has been the preferred iPhone chip maker for a while, but the key part here is “5nm”.

The A13 Bionic SoC found on the latest iPhones is made using a 7nm process which was the same one used for the 2018 iPhones' A12 chip. And while TSMC roadmaps from previous years did show the company transitioning to a 5nm process in 2020, in the world of tiny silicon things aren’t always set in stone.

As manufacturers shrink the transistors, their manufacturing becomes much harder and yields from wafers drop. The sources state that currently, TSMC is running “risk production” of 5nm silicon, basically a trial run for the process during which issues are ironed out.

The fact that in a few months TSMC will start producing 5nm chips by the millions means that their process is mature enough to take the main stage and that is really good news for us consumers.

What does 5nm mean for you?


Now, we won’t get deep into the intricacies of chip architecture but instead just quickly explain what you can expect from your 2020 iPhone.

When manufacturers move to a smaller node that usually gives chip designers two choices: reduce the size of the die while maintaining performance (or slightly improving it) or cram much more processing power in a chip of the same size.

Obviously, depending on the purpose of the device, both options are viable. The first one lets you have more internal space for other components, while the second gives room for the implementation of more demanding software features such as AR.

Additionally, chips using smaller architecture are also more power-efficient, which allows for better battery life and higher clock speeds when needed since the heat output is significantly lower.

In short, we can expect that Apple’s A14 chip will be a beast. We tend to hear that a lot when iPhone chips are mentioned but this year expectations are getting sky-high and with good reason, it seems. What’s left is for Apple to create software features that make use of all that power in a meaningful way.

This adds another piece to the iPhone 12 puzzle, which is getting closer to completion despite the phones being 9 months away from official release. If you want to check what else we know about them, hop over to our iPhone 12 rumor review.

Of course, TSMC’s manufacturing prowess isn’t reserved only for Apple, although the report says that the Californian company will take up about two-thirds of the 5nm production capacity. Huawei is another smartphone maker looking to have its 5nm chips made by TSMC, likely the ones we’ll find in the Mate 40 series handsets.

Exactly how big of a leap the 5nm process will be, we’ll likely find out once the first benchmarks of the new chips pop up and we can compare them to what we currently have. 

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10 Comments

1. Cat97

Posts: 2026; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

And yet battery life continues to worsen or stall for flagships, and with 5G arrival will will see an even worse drop this year.

2. midan

Posts: 3228; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

So you didn't read the article? it's actually opposite. "Additionally, chips using smaller architecture are also more power-efficient, which allows for better battery life and higher clock speeds when needed since the heat output is significantly lower."

6. Cat97

Posts: 2026; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

So you don't filter what you read through your own knowledge and experience ? Nobody opts to use the process shrinking to make chips more power efficient, they just go for more speed in order to shove more useless software features on users, which actually results in worse power consumption. Look at the new iPhones, battery capacity has increased significantly but they still last only a day. And 5G will additionally increase power consumption, that's why most manufacturers try to cross the 4000-5000mAh barrier for this year, not because they want phones to last more on a charge.

8. midan

Posts: 3228; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

"Look at the new iPhones, battery capacity has increased significantly but they still last only a day. " Are you kidding? New iPhone pro models have great battery life. I bet in my usage i would get three days from Pro Max, i already get average two days with 11 pro. With my x i got one day.

7. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2525; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

No, Cat97 is correct to point out that the efficiency gains are usually not seen as much on flagships as they are on mid tier devices. Also, he is right to point out 5G would fly in the face of this because even Qualcomm is not integrating the 5G modem into their SoC for their 800 series. It will be a separate modem chip which inevitably draws more power.

10. cevon3239

Posts: 81; Member since: Jan 01, 2020

Well if all these chipsets were so efficient, then the batteries wouldn't need to be so big. Something is drawing all the power and it isn't just the display. There are lots of phones that do less then many flagships, and they still dont last as long.

3. shm224

Posts: 317; Member since: Mar 19, 2015

there would be no 5nm mass production in 2020.

9. darkkjedii

Posts: 31765; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

I saved 15% on my car insurance, by switching to 5nm.

11. TheAccountant unregistered

The article headline could have been: The next-gen 5nm chips are coming to 'Huawei mate 40 and iPhones' later this year, but this is Phonearena for you

12. Poptart2828

Posts: 504; Member since: Jan 23, 2018

5nm means literally nothing to me. My phone works the same way it did 6 years ago. I still run the same apps with no problems and do the same basic functions. If anything I do see apps opening half a second faster I guess.

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