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Apple’s upcoming A17 Bionic chip, set to debut in the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, is rumored to undergo a significant transformation in 2024, according to an industry insider on Weibo. The A17 Bionic will mark Apple’s foray into 3nm chip manufacturing, a leap from the 5nm process used for its predecessors, the A14, A15, and A16 chips. The transition to the 3nm fabrication process promises substantial gains in performance and energy efficiency.
Initially, the A17 Bionic chip will reportedly be manufactured using TSMC’s N3B process, developed in collaboration with Apple. However, Apple intends to shift to the N3E process in the following year as a cost-cutting measure, albeit at the potential expense of reduced efficiency. The N3E process is considered simpler and more accessible, with fewer EUV layers and lower transistor density compared to N3B. While efficiency tradeoffs may arise, N3E offers improved performance capabilities. Notably, N3B has been ready for mass production for a longer period than N3E, but it exhibits a lower yield.
It is important to note that N3B was primarily designed as a trial node and is not compatible with TSMC’s future processes, including N3P, N3X, and N3S. Consequently, Apple will need to redesign its future chips to leverage TSMC’s advancements. Initially, the N3B process was intended for use in the A16 Bionic chip; however, Apple had to revert to the N4 process due to timing constraints.
Consequently, it is speculated that Apple may utilize the N3B CPU and GPU core design originally intended for the A16 Bionic in the initial batches of the A17 chips. Later in 2024, Apple is expected to transition to the original A17 designs using the N3E process. This architectural evolution will likely continue with TSMC’s successor nodes for future chips, such as the anticipated “A18” and “A19.”
Considering the magnitude of the changes involved, it is highly unlikely that Apple would implement such a significant shift in the A17 Bionic chip during the product cycle of the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. Instead, it is speculated that the N3E version of the chip will find its way into next year’s standard iPhone 16 and iPhone 16 Plus models. Apple has a history of employing different variations of its chips across generations, even if they share the same name, as seen in the higher-binned variant of the A15 Bionic chip used in the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, featuring an additional GPU core compared to the A15 chip used in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini.
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The source of this rumor claims to be an integrated circuit expert with 25 years of experience working on Intel’s Pentium processors, adding credibility to the information. Earlier this year, they accurately predicted that the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro would feature a Lightning-like authenticator chip in their USB-C ports and charging cables, potentially restricting functionality with Apple-unapproved accessories. This prediction was later corroborated by more established sources, further bolstering the insider’s credibility.
As with any rumor, it is advisable to approach this information with a certain level of skepticism until Apple provides official confirmation or more concrete evidence emerges. However, if these rumors hold true, the A17 Bionic chip could mark a significant milestone for Apple’s chip development, promising enhanced performance and efficiency in their future iPhone models.