back to article So long, Samsung! TSMC is fabbing Apple's A8 chip, insiders claim

The next generation of Apple's custom system on a chip (SoC) for mobile devices will be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) rather than Samsung, and so will several other chips to be used in the forthcoming iPhone 6, a report has claimed. According to Taiwanese financial newspaper Commercial Times, …

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Hardly a surprise.

This has been in the works for some time. Even Samsung was happy to burn that bridge by pricing the last of Apple's CPUs to fund their lawsuit, and the lawyers, and their lunches.

I think they're both happy to be rid of each other for good.

Whether the ongoing lawsuits are going to end or even slow down, is another story altogether.

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Trollface

A8?

Shouldn't that be a 64 bit A7S and the unloved plastic 52 bit A7C?

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Why quad core?

Be better to devote the silicon wasted on the 3rd and 4th CPU core to further bumping the GPU power.

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Re: Why quad core?

Why quad core?

Maybe there are plans for it beyond a smartphone?

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Re: Why quad core?

They might make multiple versions of the A8, like there was with the A5 (A5X) and A6 (A6X) that were used in the iPad. But there's only one reason I can think of why they might want to put a quad core CPU in an iPhone.

If they add the ability to have plug it into a monitor, and use a bluetooth keyboard/mouse, and when it detects those it runs full OS X, then the extra cores come in handy. I've been thinking for a few years they're going to do that, but I'm sure it takes a long time to get all the pieces in place so it works just as well as a real Mac in every way. Its easy to do a half ass job of this, which is why the half ass attempts to do it on Android have been ignored.

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Re: Why quad core?

Why quad core? Marketing, pure and simple. 4 is bigger than 2, and that's all the customer sees.

As for dedicating more die space to GPU - probably better to make the cache bigger. Most current or slightly next gen GPU's do all anyone needs anyway, making cache bigger increase the speed of the existing ARM *and* GPU silicon.

What's interesting is that GPU silicon takes up a lot more space than ARM cores...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why quad core?

Or use the thermal headroom devoted to cores 3/4 to increase the frequency of cores 1/2 instead...

I barely have any use for the 3rd and 4th cores in my desktop computer. Don't know why people might want them in a phone or tablet.

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Re: Why quad core?

"I barely have any use for the 3rd and 4th cores in my desktop computer. Don't know why people might want them in a phone or tablet."

Well much of the time I'd agree but as I have a number of computer-intensive applications that can use multiple cores then I'd rather have them than not. I particular my video editor for 1080p/50 video and ffmpeg for transcoding video run all 8 cores (hyperthreading I know) at ~90% on this laptop and have a huge increase in speed over my best desktop ( which is overdue for replacement for this and other reasons)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why quad core?

"Well much of the time I'd agree but as I have a number of computer-intensive applications that can use multiple cores then I'd rather have them than not."

Well, sure, I use mine to do builds a few times per day too (for a combined total time savings of probably a few minutes) but hardly see the point for a phone or even laptop. I'd rather have my laptop be cool and quiet at all times unless it's my only computer...

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Re: Why quad core?

"but hardly see the point for a phone or even laptop."

But I travel a lot ( 1/2 the year) with my laptop, DSLR and HD video camera. As 1080p/50 video requires masses of CPU for H264 rendering it took ~50 mins to render 1 min. of video with my old laptop ( admittedly an old Celeron) but now takes 1.7 mins for 1 min with this quad-core i7. That means I can render during the trip and don't have to spend time after. Well worth it if you spot a mistake in 10 mins of video and have to re-render.

And it's still perfectly usable during rendering for stills processing or editing more video.

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I would think Apple are smarter than to have all their eggs in one basket, especially a new supplier.

Could you imagine if there was a problem with the new chips and production had to be stopped, or there was a lightning strike on the plant? (Ericsson v Nokia, The Albuquerque Fire)

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TSMC have more than one plant....

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Really? Where are the other 20nm plants?

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They've already got multiple 20nm fabs

From a story about TSMC 20nm production: "At present TSMC is producing chips using 20nm fabrication process at select modules of fabs 12 and 14. Starting from May, the company will initiate 20nm production at the fab 15 modules 3 and 4."

That's more 20nm fabs in May than Samsung has 28nm fabs today, so Apple would already be more resilient to fab problems with TSMC than if they stayed with Samsung. The one advantage of Samsung is that they share process technology with IBM and Global Foundries so there would be some overflow if Apple needed more production than planned, but TSMC is larger than all three put together so that's not a problem either.

Of course, this all assumes that the rumors are true. Apple has been rumored to switch to TSMC for a couple years now, no one will know for certain until the weekend after the iPhone 6 is released and IHS does their usual teardown analysis to see who made what parts and estimate the BOM costing.

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Quad core may not be 4xthe same core

The assumption a lot of commentators appear to be making is that the quad-core CPU has all the cores of the same type and capabilities. Some recent ARM technology is to bundle a simpler, lower-power core which is used for basic tasks when the bigger cores aren't needed for heavy number crunching. Not sure it would make sense to have two lower-power cores.

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Re: Quad core may not be 4xthe same core

There's already a lower-powered ARM core in the iPhone 5S - the M7 'motion co-processor' chip uses its own ARM Cortex-M3 core to offload movement-related processing, rather than burning more power using the big 64-bit ARM cores on the A7 for the same sums.

Samsung have been using ARM's own big.LITTLE setup, pairing Cortex A15 and A7 cores together so you can move workload between the two to adjust your power-performance tradeoff; I don't recall any indication of Apple going down that route yet, but it wouldn't surprise me to see that soon.

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Been there, Done that...

I'm an ex Intel Product Engineer and I've seen a few "new process" introductions. What I can tell you is this:

Launching your brand spanking new "Bleeding edge" large-die flagship product on a brand spanking new barely qualified "Bleeding edge" process is a BAD idea. I mean : What could POSSIBLY go wrong?? And having one of your suppliers pull out on yield grounds is a BAD sign.

I'm waiting for this to fall apart on reliability grounds and degenerate into a slanging match.

"What do you mean 3% of them are failing after a week in a Phoenix parking lot? Show me your qual data"

"errr ... We ignored some data points to keep Chairman Chang and the investors happy".

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