Chipworks is in the process of delayering Apple's A7, but they just confirmed what we mentioned in our iPhone 5s review: Apple's A7 is built at Samsung using their 28nm HK+MG process, the same used for the Exynos 5410/5420. The confirmation comes by looking at contacted gate pitch, which is similar to that of other devices using Samsung's 28nm HK+MG process (and smaller than the previous generation 32nm A6). I'm sure we'll get more details once Chipworks goes further.

Apple has been running test silicon at TSMC for a while now, and will likely shift the production of some silicon there in the not too distant future. I'm not expecting a clean switch from Samsung to TSMC, but rather a hybrid solution where Apple produces some silicon at TSMC and some at Samsung. We may even see it split across SoC lines rather than a mix for one SoC.

Rumors of an Intel foundry deal cropped up again recently, but it's far too early for something like that. Not to mention that the deal that was being worked on wasn't for 22nm.

Source: Chipworks via EE Times

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  • ErikZachrisson - Friday, September 27, 2013 - link

    TSMC has the advantage of being used to having multiple customers, thus they have very clear design rules. Intel on other hand has not such a workflow, having almost only internal customers.

    This makes porting designs to intel fabs hard and costly.
  • YawningAngel - Saturday, September 21, 2013 - link

    Actually, I can see fabbing for Apple potentially working to sell Atom chips to Android manufacturers. If you have to complete with the iPhone for power and SoC integration, you need a chip being fabbed on the same process. If Atom is the only such chip, it gives Intel more chance of grabbing market share from Qualcomm.
  • Kevin G - Saturday, September 21, 2013 - link

    The would require Atom to have a distinct performance as a well as a performance-per-watt advantage over what Apple can design. At this moment, Apple's A7 is very, very impressive in these areas. What Silvermont SoC's offer isn't enough to make the leap today. There is also the factor in that handset/tablet designers will be at the mercy of what Intel decides to put into Atom where as the ARM market is much of diversified in what SoC's are offered.

    I do see other SoC designers wanting to utilize Intel's fabs for their own SoC parts. Intel's Quark strategy appears to be playing into those desires if they want an x86 CPU put into an SoC.

    Between AMD's willingness to design SoC's for companies with outside IP and Intel's Quark strategy, it appears that handset/tablet designers have modern mobile and legacy desktop convergence on the horizon in some capacity. The only way to put legacy desktop support into your pocket is through x86 and Windows.
  • SodaAnt - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Intel does have another advantage though, and that's process maturity. They can manufacture their own chips exclusively for a year or a year and a half at the smallest process, then let apple make theirs after that, and they'll still probably both ahead of the curve both in die yields and still be a bit ahead of TSMC.
  • Laststop311 - Saturday, September 21, 2013 - link

    Yea, I don't see how intel producing apples chips would negatively impact them in any way. Apple does all the work designing them. All intel has to do is manufacture the design apple gives them. It would be a great way for intel to utilize the unused capacity. Small margin of profit is better than under utilized capacity right?
  • Laststop311 - Saturday, September 21, 2013 - link

    it's actually a complete win for everybody. Apple gets to be happy and cut Samsung out of the picture while at the same time getting intels fully mature award winning 22nm finfet process for low power designs. Intel will have tons of 22nm capacity becoming available shortly when they move the bulk of their chips to 14nm. They are gonna have to do something with all that 22nm capacity. Even though they want x86 in all phones I just don't see how making apples Arm ISA chips would change anything as far as that is concerned. And even a year from now intels low power version of 22nm will still be cutting edge compared to all other ARM manufacturers.
  • mytakeismine - Saturday, September 21, 2013 - link

    Intel gets paid twice for their chips, once for the design and once for the manufacturing.

    When producing for Apple it would only get paid once and that chip is in direct competition. Now Intel would love to have the same deal with the Mac Air where they pay premium for an Intel chip and then get the chip a few months early
  • ananduser - Saturday, September 21, 2013 - link

    So...designed by ARM, modified/customized/enhanced by Apple, manufactured by Samsung. I think it's safe to say that the title of the 1st 64bit ARMv8 SoC goes to all of the above.
  • yhselp - Saturday, September 21, 2013 - link

    I feel this is more of a first step of Intel getting Apple on-board x86 for iOS. ARM is nowhere near (and might never be) the notebook/desktop segment and Apple won't stop producing such devices for years to come (if ever); they are however bringing deeper integration across all product lines and having the same architecture would help a lot. Given that Intel seems to have the superior architecture and certainly has the most advanced manufacturing process make them quite appealing.

    So unless something along those lines changes it appears that x86 and iOS are destined to meet, sooner or later. The fact that Apple are investing in ARM development isn't surprising, but doesn't necessarily mean that it's impossible for them to drop this altogether - they certainly have the vast resources to make such sudden shifts. Remember, Apple is a hardware/software company forced into microprocessor design because the situation necessitates it, while Intel is a microprocessor company proper; what this means is that Intel has the biggest interest to get into a market they missed and Apple wouldn't mind making more money by not developing their own architectures. Of course, you never know.

    P.S. What you guys say about Intel feeding then-old 22nm fabs with Apple SoCs make a lot of sense, but you might have missed the last sentence from this 'story' -- "Not to mention that the deal that was being worked on wasn't for 22nm."
  • Bob Todd - Saturday, September 21, 2013 - link

    "Apple is a hardware/software company forced into microprocessor design because the situation necessitates it"

    I don't think that's really accurate. Apple could have continued to use SOCs from other vendors like Qualcom/Nvidia/etc. The situation doesn't necessitate them bringing CPU design in-house. However, if you look at the revenue breakdown for their product mix, it's extremely heavy on the mobile side. I see their acquisitions and work thus far with A6/A7 as a way to have more control over their own destiny.

    And while I wouldn't really be shocked if Apple went x86 for iOS in another generation or two (when Intel is at 14nm/7nm), it also wouldn't really surprise me if they went the opposite direction. In several years we could see an Apple A11 powering Macbook Airs. It would be a huge undertaking for all 3rd party software, but it's not like Apple hasn't switched architectures before when it was to their benefit. If they could cut Intel CPUs out of their BOM and bank all of the increased margin between a $30 ARM part and a multi-hundred dollar Intel one they'd laugh all the way to the bank. That's easier said then done obviously since it's not just the CPU cores to worry about for their non-touch lineup. There's PCIe/Thunderbolt and a whole ton of crap in the chipset they'd need alternatives for as well.

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