Apple’s A6 processor could beat Intel to the market for 3D IC chip construction, using the complex layering system so as to avoid overheating issues of the sort supposedly threatening to delay the next-gen iPhone and the current Apple A5 processor. According to EETimes, a Taiwanese report claims TSMC will be producing 3D 28nm chips by the end of the year which, SemiWiki says, can see performance boosted by around 30-percent while power consumption drops by around 50-percent. That will also add up to reduced heat output.
It’s that heat output which could be crucial, as Apple attempts to put higher-powered chips into smaller and smaller chassis. Reports from Chinese site Sohu allege Apple is experiencing problems with the dual-core A5 processor – already found in the iPad 2 – overheating when in the much smaller confines of the iPhone 5 casing. The site – which does not specify its sources – goes so far as to suggest that Apple will delay the iPhone 5 release, instead launching the iPhone 4S with more mundane advances over the current model.
TSMC is believed to have begun sample production of the A6 already, with Apple’s ordering decision to be dependent on the yield rates of the 28nm manufacturing processes. That also fits in with reports that Apple is looking to ditch Samsung as much as possible as a component supplier, given the ongoing legal battle between the two firms and Samsung’s rising star as a smartphone and tablet provider.
Although TSMC’s 3D designs have been compared to Intel’s 3D technologies, announced earlier this year, the two companies have taken different strategies. Intel’s “Tri-Gate” system, which the company has said will appear first in Ivy Bridge processors around the end of 2011, uses 3D transistors, whereas TSMC’s approach is less complex and relies on interconnects between various die levels so that each can communicate with the other. Although the current Apple A4 and A5 are already layered in their design, the various sections are less integrated than in the so-called 3D IC chips.
With none of the involved parties willing to go on record about order details, production plans – beyond TSMC saying it intends to get started on 28nm commercial production before the year is out – or detailed specifications and capabilities, it’s hard to know whether the A5 heat issues will indeed impact what next-gen iPhone Apple launches this year or who will make the processor inside its successor or future iPads in 2012 and beyond. Meanwhile, there’s speculation that the high-power ARM-based chips could also help Apple push ahead with plans to ditch Intel processors in its MacBook range as rumored earlier in the year.