The iPhone 15 is set to release around mid-September this year, and with it, the first large-scale implementation of TSMC’s groundbreaking 3nm chip. This major development in transistor technology carries the promise of unprecedented boosts to performance and battery life for the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max (or iPhone 15 Ultra!). Rumors about the next generation of Apple’s A-series chips have set the internet ablaze in recent months, so we’ve taken the time to compile the most relevant and accurate information up-to-date for you.
A Brief History of Chip Tech
Over recent decades, chip technology has made extraordinary progress, with chips becoming smaller, faster, and more efficient. Apple, known for its commitment to innovation, has remained one step ahead of the game from the very start. Since its debut in 2010 with the A4, a 45nm chip utilized by the iPhone 4 and iPad, Apple has continuously unveiled annual advancements in its A-series chips. With each new iteration, consumers have enjoyed substantial improvements in graphics performance, clock speed, and power efficiency. In recent memory, the A16 bionic chip used by the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max was about 7% faster and 20% more power efficient than its predecessor. Keeping in mind that both the A15 and A16 bionic chips were based on similar 5nm processes, even this small upgrade was an exciting leap forward.
Unleashing the Power of the A17
As silicon transistors continue to reduce in size, we find ourselves rapidly approaching an invisible wall defined by the very laws of physics. Below a certain length threshold, quantum tunneling begins to act on the gates of transistors, rendering them incapable of generating consistent on/off signals. Without a reliable means of speaking binary, such transistors would be useless for applications in processors. This fact made it all the more impressive when the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) started production of 3nm chips in late 2022. Having only begun manufacturing its 5nm (N5) chipset in 2020, the swiftness of this latest advancement by TSMC astounded many industry insiders. Questions arose regarding the sped-up implementation and whether or not it would hold a candle to Samsung’s 3nm process. These concerns were addressed last month, though, when Apple announced that it had monopolized the first generation of TSMC’s 3nm (N3) chipset. In a bid to establish an unrivaled performance advantage over competitors, Apple booked an astonishing 90% of TSMC’s total 3nm chip production for 2023.
According to TSMC, N3 technology will “offer up to 70% logic density gain, up to 15% speed improvement at the same power and up to 30% power reduction at the same speed as compared with N5 technology.” This significant boost in logic density means that more transistors will be packed into the iPhone 15 Pro/Pro Max than ever before, leading to augmented functionality. Additionally, greater power reduction indicates extended battery life for the iPhone 15 Pro series, an essential consideration for consumers. Mark Liu, TSMC’s chair, claims that these processors will be about 35% more power efficient than existing 4nm and 5nm technology.
The A17 chip built upon the 3nm process will feature up to four dies, each of which supports 10 compute cores. With a titanic 40-core CPU, the amplified multi-core processing power of the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max would enable users to tackle most resource-intensive tasks with complete ease. Furthermore, there have been rumors circulating about Apple's exploration of ray tracing technologies. While the A16 chip was initially expected to incorporate ray tracing, Apple eventually decided against it due to issues related to battery drainage and overheating. However, with the upcoming 3nm chips, the inclusion of built-in ray tracing support seems increasingly likely. This addition would revolutionize the graphics capabilities of the iPhone 15 Pro, providing users with more immersive gaming experiences, realistic visuals, and enhanced graphics performance.
The highly anticipated iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max will undoubtedly be game-changing for the consumer electronics industry. The chips they come equipped with, the A17 bionic, lies at the forefront of human achievement at the nanoscale. With these exclusively acquired processors, the next generation of iPhones will redefine what is possible in a mobile device. If you’re on the fence about buying the iPhone 14 or waiting for the next release, the wisest choice is clear. From notable improvements in multi-core performance and power efficiency to the potential for enhanced graphics with ray tracing, there’s much to look forward to this coming September.