updated 09:25 pm EST, Tue March 8, 2011
Rumored Apple deal with TSMC to go to 28nm
Apple's reported deal with TSMC runs considerably deeper than suspected, sources said Tuesday night. The semiconductor firm is supposedly building the A5 in the iPad 2 at 40 nanometers (nm), more efficiently than Samsung's 45nm process, and was chosen specifically for its performance at that size. It had the most capacity and the most reliable yields of chips in each production batch, EETimes was told.
It also had a vested interest in diversifying away from Samsung, which made the A4 chip in the original iPad, the iPhone 4, the fourth-generation iPod touch and the Apple TV. As a competitor with the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab, Samsung could put priority on supplying its own devices over Apple. While it isn't believed to have intentionally undermined rivals, HTC had to switch to LCD after Samsung's limited AMOLED screen production meant it could only reliably supply itself until this year.
The technology deal would also go at least one generation later, according to the tips. Apple was already due to work with TSMC on the next wave of smaller chips, at 28nm. Their exact plans weren't detailed, although the industry's next broader step should be to quad-core processors that could run as efficiently as dual-core designs while delivering much higher performance.
A 40nm A5 suggests that the A5 is on the same process as the NVIDIA Tegra 2 and, if using an ARM Cortex-A9 architecture, should be near-identical in baseline CPU performance. The differences between the two would focus mostly on graphics speed, although both can handle 1080p video output and again could be close.
Apple has often been loyal to Samsung and still depends on it for the majority of its flash memory in iPads, iPhones and iPods. However, it's known to switch suppliers whenever it feels it will either get the best technology or risks becoming too dependent. It made a major deal with NVIDIA for unibody Macs in late 2008 but dropped more elements than were necessary after the Intel settlement with NVIDIA ruled out future integrated GeForce chipsets. It not only dropped NVIDIA integrated graphics but switched to dedicated AMD video on the MacBook Pro.