Apple's A7 expected to tape out in March
Foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. will finish the tape out of Apple's A7 processor in 20-nm CMOS in March in time for volume production in early 2014, according to a report from DigiTimes which referenced unnamed sources.
Completing the design in 1Q13 will allow the chip, expected to be used in forthcoming generations of iPhone and iPad, to begin so-called "risk production" in May or June and lead to high volume production in 1Q14, the report said. TSMC is adding manufacturing capacity at its Fab-14 Gigafab where is plans to make the A7 processor, the report added.
Fab-14 in Tainan, Taiwan is not only set to be TSMC's first fab to produce 20-nm CMOS system chips in volume but it also earmarked as the place where it will bring up its follow-on 16-nm FinFET manufacturing process.
That TSMC is set to make the A7 processor for Apple is no surprise. We've heard such things before that did not come to pass. Talk of Apple moving its processor production away from sole supplier Samsung has been rife since at least 2011, with a particular piquancy as Apple and Samsung have engaged in legal battles around the world over their mobile devices.
It is thought that Apple engaged with TSMC to try and get the A6 application processor out in 2011 on the 28-nm process node but that the difficulties of migrating design elements, particularly around such as issues as collateral IP may have thwarted the move.
Talk also continues to swirl around the possibility that Intel could also be a manufacturer for Apple. Intel does supply x86 processors to Apple for use in its MacBook computers and is gradually increasing its foundry engagements.
However, even though Intel is well-versed in making complex microprocessors, offering all the IP needed to let a third-party design their own processor and then make it is a highly complex design interaction and possibly one that would be a stretch for Intel's foundry operation right now. Or, at least, Apple might think so if it got its fingers burned at the 28-nm node.
Nonetheless the possibility remains that Apple could be moving to a multiple supplier strategy for its own processors. However, it seems likely that will be implemented as serial engagements.
In other words, while Samsung may go on supplying A6 processors made using 32-nm/28-nm CMOS to Apple for some time, TSMC looks set to be the incumbent at 20-nm but it may have been made clear to the foundry that Apple is already working with Intel aiming at the 14-nm and 10-nm FinFET as a potential alternative to TSMC's 16-nm FinFET roadmap.