Most Of Apple's A9/A9X Chips To Be Manufactured On TSMC's 16nm FinFET Process

Over the past few years, Apple has tried to distance itself from using Samsung as a supplier, which makes sense considering that Samsung was also Apple's main competitor in the mobile market. Apple didn't want Samsung to gain any advantages it might not get otherwise if the company wasn't its supplier.

Apple managed to manufacture 100 percent of its chips on TSMC's processes as recently as last year. However, earlier this year, there were some rumors that Apple may go back to Samsung and its 14nm FinFET process, which is ahead of TSMC's 16nm FinFET process both in terms of performance and time to market speed. 

The Exynos 7420 chip inside the Galaxy S6 is already built on Samsung's 14nm process, while no TSMC 16nm chip is expected to come out until Q4 this year. That wouldn't be a major issue for Apple, though, as that's when the company plans to release its new iPhones and iPads anyway.

New reports say that Apple will continue to manufacture the bulk of its A9 and A9X chips at TSMC's foundries. As many as 70 percent of the chips are expected to be built on TSMC's 16nm process, with the A9X (the iPad chip) to be built exclusively on TSMC's process.

"We believe TSMC will earn most of the A9 orders thanks to its superior yield ramp and manufacturing excellence in mass-production. We expect TSMC to earn all of Apple's A9X orders (for the next generation iPad) and most of the A9 (for the next generation of iPhone), aggregating to an allocation of over 70%," said analysts from Daiwa Securities.

Even if TSMC's process has slightly lower performance than Samsung's 14nm process, that shouldn't be much of an issue inside the much larger iPads, compared to the smaller space inside the iPhones. However, considering the new report said that up to 70 percent of the chips will be built on 16nm, it's possible that Apple may build the A9 chip that goes inside the iPhone 6S Plus, as well. The iPad market is shrinking, and it was never that large compared to the iPhone market, so at least some of the iPhone chips will have to be built on 16nm in order to reach that high percentage.

Apple doesn't like to rely much on Samsung as a supplier anymore, which is probably why the company intends to use TSMC whenever possible, but this time there may have been a yield issue as well. This was the first time Samsung opted to use Exynos chips exclusively in its high-end flagship and its most popular device, which is already seeing great demand, so there may not have been too much room left on its foundries for Apple's chips.

Apple is also expected to sell many new next-generation iPhones this fall, and it's possible Samsung couldn't cover the manufacturing for both flagship devices in such a short period of time.

Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • Mac266
    "considering the new report said that up to 70 percent of the chips will be built on 16nm, it's possible that Apple may build the A9 chip that goes inside the iPhone 6S Plus, as well"

    I think thats meant to be TSMC may build the A9
  • jasonelmore
    I wish Nvidia and AMD could use Samsung's Fab's. I'm so tired of TSMC delays it's not even funny.
  • ericburnby
    Samsungs 14nm process isn't 100% 14nm (like Intel, for example). The interconnects are 22nm. So nobody knows for sure which overall process is better - Samsungs 14/22nm mix or TSMC 16nm.
  • ta152h
    Samsungs 14nm process isn't 100% 14nm (like Intel, for example). The interconnects are 22nm. So nobody knows for sure which overall process is better - Samsungs 14/22nm mix or TSMC 16nm.

    Intel's aren't 14nm either. There's nothing in any chip that is 14nm, it's just a name they call them.

    Intel likes to lie about their process, and show the dimensions that make them look good, but the fact is, Apples A8X, on TSMC's 20nm, has 48% more transistors in the same area as Intel's 14nm Core M processor. It's just one implementation, so doesn't tell the whole story, but it does make it clear Intel's 14nm isn't nearly as dense as Intel would have you believe.

    Also, who said Samsung's 14nm is better performing? There's absolutely no data indicating this, and most in the industry believe TSMC's 16FF+ will be higher performing, but it's far from certain.

  • none12345
    Its gotten to the point that whatever they call the size of their process it doesnt matter, because it doesnt mean anything. So, who cares at this point if its 14nm 16nm or 18nm or 22nm, or whatever they want to call it.

    I care how fast the chips are, not what process they were made on. I care how efficient they are not, what process they are made on. One is going to be better then the other, but it might not be the same for every chip, or what they favor(speed, or efficiency)
  • extide
    Intel's 14nm was a true shrink on the front end of line (FEOL) AND back end of line (BEOL) vs their 22nm node. Where as samsung/tsmc/gf all only shrank the FEOL vs their 20nm nodes. The back end (metalization layers) are still the same as their 20nm process. They are basically just adding the smaller transistors + finfets to the existing BEOL, which makes it much more like a half-shrink. So, yes even though Intel's 14nm isnt really 14nm, (and NOBODY's else's is actually as small as the marketing name either) it is still a bigger leap forward than any of the competition. This is also Intel's second gen FinFETs, vs everyone else's 1st gen.
  • Bluevaping
    Intel mobile cpu 14nm and Southbridge 32nm PCH.
  • Bluevaping
    More stuff is on the die like on A8x. (SOC). Adds transistors. Intel splits it up for its performance chips.
  • Mohammed Saleh
    For the 16nm process technology, TSMC employed seven-layer Cu-low-k interconnection. The half pitch of the first metal interconnection is 32nm. The fin pitch is 48nm. While Samsung’s 14nm FinFET process uses a 20nm metal interconnect.
  • aldaia
    Whole article is based on what some analysts believe.
    "We believe TSMC .... said analysts from Daiwa Securities."

    I recently heard rumors (and as rumors, should be taken with a grain of salt) that point that Apple is actually splitting different SOC generations between fabs.

    A9 14nm FinFET 75% samsung, 25% GF
    A9X 16nm FinFET 100% TSMC
    S1 (apple watch) 28 nm 100% samsung

    A10 16nm FinFET++ 100% TSMC
    A10X 10 nm FinFET 100% samsung
    S2 (apple watch) 20 nm 100% TSM

    If those rumors are true apple is actually splitting production and interleaving between fabs. Wich i think makes a lot of sense, you know, never put all your eggs into one basket. Those rumors also suggest that samsung may be producing 10nm chips by 2016 (probably to be sold in 2017 products). The same rumors also seem to confirm previous rumors that A10X may be used for "iPad & Mac".

    As I said they are only rumors, but who knows!