Intel and Apple to partner with TSMC in producing 3nm chips

2 Jul 2021

Image: © MichaelVi/Stock.adobe.com

Processors containing the next-generation TSMC technology will hit the market in 2023.

Intel and Apple are to be the first two adopters of new technology from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) as the two companies begin testing their chip designs with the process.

The next-generation technology from the Taiwanese giant will allow for the fabrication of 3nm chips. Production is expected to begin in late 2022, with products becoming commercially available in 2023.

Apple reportedly plans to use the chips for processors in its iPads, while Intel is developing 3nm CPUs for notebooks and data centres. Apple currently uses 5nm TSMC-manufactured chips in the iPhone 12, but plans to move to a 4nm process for the generation of phones rolling out in 2022.

TSMC currently plans to produce more 3nm chips for Intel than for Apple.

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Chips produced using Intel’s own 7nm manufacturing process (which has a transistor density slightly above that of the TSMC 5nm technology) won’t be available until 2023, after several delays. The company previously fabricated all of its products in-house, but has begun outsourcing production in the last year. TSMC manufactures chips for a range of designers, including Qualcomm, Nvidia and AMD.

AMD, with which Intel competes across multiple processor markets, notably that for notebooks, is set to release its next-generation Zen 4 processors sometime in 2022. These will use 5nm technology, also from TSMC. Intel’s new deal with the Taiwanese manufacturer may mean it beats AMD to be the first to release a 3nm chip.

Apple is also a significant player in the laptop processor market, having introduced a power-saving new CPU design last year, the M1, also produced by TSMC. US chipmaker Qualcomm’s new CEO recently said the company plans to become more competitive in this sector, the vast majority of its revenue currently coming from smartphone processors.

TSMC recently announced plans to invest $100bn into expanding its manufacturing capacity amid a global shortage in semiconductor products affecting numerous industries. Constantly increasing demand, combined with the effects of the pandemic on supply chains, has left chipmakers unable to keep up. Intel is also investing $7bn in its manufacturing centre in Leixlip.

Many governments are undertaking projects to encourage more domestic production of chips, spurred on by both the global shortage and by geopolitical concerns. The EU aims to invest “significant funds” in increasing European manufacturing capacity, and the US government has made similar moves.

Jack Kennedy is a freelance journalist based in Dublin

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