Intel to meet this month with TSMC to avoid a fight with Apple over 3nm capacity
It appears as though TSMC is back on track and is aiming to start mass production of chips using the 3nm process node starting in the second half of 2022. As a result, there is still a good chance that the Apple A16 Bionic chipset will be built with the 3nm process although earlier talk centered on the use of the 4nm process for the component. The difference is the number of transistors inside each chip which drives performance and energy efficiency.
Top Intel execs are meeting with TSMC to pry some 3nm capacity away from Apple without a fight
According to Digitimes (via AppleInsider), Intel plans on paying a visit to TSMC soon, and not just to personally give them holiday greetings. Intel is one of the foundry's largest customers (along with Apple, AMD, NVIDIA, MediaTek, and Qualcomm) and they want assurance that TSMC will have enough capacity to make 3nm chips in the quantity that Intel needs.
Intel wants to outsource some of its chip production to TSMC
Intel is not a fabless company like Apple is, for example. That means that while Apple designs its own chips, it does not own equipment and fabrication facilities to manufacture them. While Intel does own its own foundry, it cannot produce cutting-edge chips as TSMC can. In January there was a report that TSMC was prepared to offer Intel capacity at 4nm while testing at 5nm.
Digitimes' new report states that high-level Intel executives plan to travel to Taiwan in the middle of this month to meet with TSMC. On the agenda is the amount of 3nm capacity that Intel needs. While the American chip giant might have to outsource some of its production through TSMC, it also has indicated a desire to upgrade its own production capabilities.
The meeting is being held so that Intel can "avoid fighting with Apple." Reportedly, Apple has already worked out a deal with TSMC for all of the latter's initial 3nm production capacity. This means that Intel most likely would not have access to TSMC's 3nm capacity until 2023 at the earliest.
Assuming that there is some urgency on Intel's part (their executives aren't flying to Taiwan for a vacation), it will be interesting to see whether Intel's meeting with TSMC is productive. TSMC is the world's largest independent foundry and last year it generated revenue of $45.51 billion which produced net profits of $17.60 billion. The company is valued at $565 billion.
Now that Apple has created its own high-powered chips for the Mac that replace Intel processors, the company relies on TSMC even more. The Apple M1 chip contains 16 billion transistors which are one billion more than the number found in the A15 Bionic. The latter is used on the iPhone 13 series.
All roads lead to TSMC
Earlier this year, Apple introduced the M1 Pro, a 5nm chip that features 33.7 billion transistors, and the 5nm M1 Max with 57 billion transistors. Both are manufactured by TSMC.
Apple is also rumored to be replacing Qualcomm's 5G modem chip with one it will design itself.
The new 5G modem chip will be built by TSMC using its 4nm process node, and it should debut in the 2023 iPhone 15 series. While Apple undoubtedly feels as though it now has no worries about obtaining enough chips in the future, it might have not considered how all roads lead to TSMC. And late yesterday we passed along a report from Fox News that noted how some experts fear that China might look to take back Taiwan to create a unified China.
In such a scenario, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could create some serious global chaos by taking control of TSMC. China itself has realized that it needs to boost the chip production on the mainland. While the U.S. has also come to this conclusion about itself, it is trying to increase American production by having TSMC build a foundry in Arizona that could eventually grow to be a huge fabrication facility.
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