The next big thing to happen with Apple silicon is the switch to the 3nm process. It’s been delayed because of the pandemic-related production issues, but we’ve heard reports that 3nm is coming soon, which has been reaffirmed by a new report by the Business Times in China.
The report (translation) confirms what’s been reported before, that Apple will be the first device manufacturer to implement chips created with the 3nm process. The iPhone 15 will be the first phone with a 3nm chip, and Apple will also make a MacBook Air, iPad Air, and iPad Pro with 3nm processors.
However, the report shares that the chips won’t be made with the same process. The iPhone 15 will use TSMC’s first-gen process (N3) while the iPads and Macs will reportedly use an “enhanced” N3E process. TSMC previously announced its 3nm production will be a three-year process with five nodes: N3, N3E, N3P, N3X, and N2. The chip manufacturer followed a similar path with its 5nm process, with N5P, N4P, and N4X modes.
As has been previously reported, Apple has acquired all of the 3nm capacity from chip manufacturer TSMC. Mass production is expected to start in the third quarter of 2023, which would be in time for the iPhone 15’s release in the fall. Other non-Apple phones will use TSMC’s N4X process.
Apple has been rumored to be on the brink of releasing a 15-inch MacBook Air, but since the 3nm process isn’t ready for full production yet, it will likely have an M2 processor. Rather, the first M3 MacBook Air will likely be a refresh of the M2 model that arrived last year. Similarly, the iPad Pro is due to undergo a major revamp in 2024, which would almost certainly include the M3 chip.
A chip’s nanometer (nm) size refers to the width between a chip’s transistors, and the smaller the size, the more transistors that can fit on a die, which can result in better performance. TSMC has said that compared to 5nm, 3nm will reduce a chip’s power use by 25 to 30 percent at the same speed or 10 to 15 percent faster speed at the same power. Currently, Apple’s M1 and M2 Macs have 5nm chips, while the iPhone 14 Pro has a 4nm A16 Bionic chip, which is really “an enhanced version of N5 technology.”