Apple has been in a partnership with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) for future iPad and iPhone mobile device products in its attempt to separate its microchip supply chain reliance from smartphone competitor- Samsung. TSMC’s process is designed to improve performance and reduce power consumption of new Apple products. Evaluations are underway and they are likely to succeed. TSMC is a heavyweight in microchip production and is capable of meeting the challenge.
Vice president of R&D at TSMC, Cliff Hou, announced to EE Times recently that the 16nm FinFET process used for this application would have the same leakage power characteristics as the 20nm process on which it is based and would also boost Apple product performance boost by up to 35 percent and reduce total power consumption by around 35 percent compared to 20nm technology. Leading foundries forecast that the processing of 3D devices will only cost 2 to 5 percent more than that of planar wafer fabrication, as reported in Electronic Design this past month.
Modern FinFETs are 3D transistor structures are built above the planar silicon substrate, thereby giving them more volume per capita than a conventional planar gate used over many decades. One of the benefits is the excellent control of the conducting channel by the gate, which is contoured around the channel and leads to reduced leakage current through the body when the device is in the off-state. Therefore, lower threshold voltages are required to control the device that result in enhanced switching speeds and power consumption. However, the modeling and design of FinFETs is more complex due to the more elaborate architecture and voltage control dynamics.
While TSMC’s 20nm semiconductor process technology will most likely be utilized for its first chip orders to Apple, its 16nm FinFET process is expected to have the most beneficial impact in future iPad products by 2014, as reiterated yesterday in DigiTimes. TSMC has been cited as the likely supplier to Apple for an integrated AP/GPU solution using its 20nm system-on-chip process technology. According to Taiwan's Commercial Times, TSMC has begun trial production of the 4th generation iPad's A6X processor.
TSMC has a window of several months to satisfy Apple with respect to chip quality and volume in order to become the major supplier of chips for Apple's mobile devices, according to these reports. Apple is rumored to be pressuring TSMC to build a US fab, which would likely be in Upstate New York, to improve its public image with respect to US manufacturing.