Apple Dual Sources A9 SOCs with TSMC and Samsung: Some Extra Thoughts

Subject: Processors | September 30, 2015 - 09:55 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, Samsung, FinFET, apple, A9, 16 nm, 14 nm

So the other day the nice folks over at Chipworks got word that Apple was in fact sourcing their A9 SOC at both TSMC and Samsung.  This is really interesting news on multiple fronts.  From the information gleaned the two parts are the APL0898 (Samsung fabbed) and the APL1022 (TSMC).

These process technologies have been in the news quite a bit.  As we well know, it has been a hard time for any foundry to go under 28 nm in an effective way if your name is not Intel.  Even Intel has had some pretty hefty issues with their march to sub 32 nm parts, but they have the resources and financial ability to push through a lot of these hurdles.  One of the bigger problems that affected the foundries was the idea that they could push back FinFETs beyond what they were initially planning.  The idea was to hit 22/20 nm and use planar transistors and push development back to 16/14 nm for FinFET technology.


The Chipworks graphic that explains the differences between Samsung's and TSMC's A9 products.

There were many reasons why this did not work in an effective way for the majority of products that the foundries were looking to service with a 22/20 nm planar process.  Yes, there were many parts that were fabricated using these nodes, but none of them were higher power/higher performance parts that typically garner headlines.  No CPUs, no GPUs, and only a handful of lower power SOCs (most notably Apple's A8, which was around 89 mm squared and consumed up to 5 to 10 watts at maximum).  The node just did not scale power very effectively.  It provided a smaller die size, but it did not increase power efficiency and switching performance significantly as compared to 28 nm high performance nodes.

The information Chipworks has provided also verifies that Samsung's 14 nm FF process is more size optimized than TSMC's 16 nm FF.  There was originally some talk about both nodes being very similar in overall transistor size and density, but Samsung has a slightly tighter design.  Neither of them are smaller than Intel's latest 14 nm which is going into its second generation form.  Intel still has a significant performance and size advantage over everyone else in the field.  Going back to size we see the Samsung chip is around 96 mm square while the TSMC chip is 104.5 mm square.  This is not huge, but it does show that the Samsung process is a little tighter and can squeeze more transistors per square mm than TSMC.

In terms of actual power consumption and clock scaling we have nothing to go on here.  The chips are both represented in the 6S and 6S+.  Testing so far has not shown there to be significant differences between the two SOCs so far.  In theory one could be performing better than the other, but in reality we have not tested these chips at a low enough level to discern any major performance or power issue.  My gut feeling here is that Samsung's process is more mature and running slightly better than TSMC's, but the differences are going to be minimal at best.

The next piece of info that we can glean from this is that there just isn't enough line space for all of the chip companies who want to fabricate their parts with either Samsung or TSMC.  From a chip standpoint a lot of work has to be done to port a design to two different process nodes.  While 14 and 16 are similar in overall size and the usage of FinFETS, the standard cells and design libraries for both Samsung and TSMC are going to be very different.  It is not a simple thing to port over a design.  A lot of work has to be done in the design stage to make a chip work with both nodes.  I can tell you that there is no way that both chips are identical in layout.  It is not going to be a "dumb port" where they just adjust the optics with the same masks and magically make these chips work right off the bat.  Different mask sets for each fab, verification of both designs, and troubleshooting the yields by metal layer changes will be different for each manufacturer.

In the end this means that there just simply was not enough space at either TSMC or Samsung to handle the demand that Apple was expecting.  Because Apple has deep pockets they contracted out both TSMC and Samsung to produce two very similar, but still different parts.  Apple also likely outbid and locked down what availability to process wafers that Samsung and TSMC have, much to the dismay of other major chip firms.  I have no idea what is going on in the background with people like NVIDIA and AMD when it comes to line space for manufacturing their next generation parts.  At least for AMD it seems that their partnership with GLOBALFOUNDRIES and their version of 14 nm FF is having a hard time taking off.  Eventually more space will be made in production and yields and bins will improve.  Apple will stop taking up so much space and we can get other products rolling off the line.  In the meantime, enjoy that cutting edge iPhone 6S/+ with the latest 14/16 nm FF chips.

Source: Chipworks

Samsung may be fabbing the Snapdragon 820

Subject: General Tech | April 2, 2015 - 04:58 PM |
Tagged: Samsung, qualcomm, 14 nm, snapdragon 820

If DigiTimes has called it right Qualcomm will be using Samsung to fab the new Snapdragon 820, likely on the same line as Samsung used for the 14 nm EXynos 7420.  TSMC's 16 nm tech is slightly behind in quality to Samsung's current 14 nm and Qualcomm really wants to replace the current Snapdragon 810 as soon as possible.  This move makes sense strategically seeing as how Samsung will be using its own processors in the new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5 and Qualcomm may look to leverage their status as a customer to try to get their Snapdragon back into future Samsung products.


"Qualcomm's next-generation application processor (AP), the Snapdragon 820, is expected to outsource to Samsung Electronics using a 14nm node, which the Korea-based foundry house has demonstrated as a proven process as showcased by the performance and power consumption of its14nm EXynos 7420 CPU developed in house, according to Digitimes Research."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: DigiTimes

Intel's low end refresh, the die shrunk Braswell family

Subject: General Tech | April 1, 2015 - 07:56 PM |
Tagged: celeron, N3000, N3050, pentium, Intel, 14 nm, N3150, N3700, Airmont

Intel has released four low powered 14 nm Braswell SoCs, with Airmont cores and Generation 8 graphics to replace the current Bay Trail-D processors currently being sold. There are two Celeron models with two cores as well as Celeron and Pentium model with 4 cores, that is also the number of threads available as these processors do not support HyperThreading.  The base frequencies range from 1.04GHz base and 2.08GHz boost clock to the top end Pentium running at 1.6GHz base and 2.4 GHz boost.  All but the low end Celeron model will run at a 6W TDP, with the lowest clocked Celeron running at 4W.  You can expect to see these in lower end laptops and desktops very soon.  Follow the links from The Register for a bit more information on Intel's new low powered SoCs.


"CPU World reports that Intel will offer four new Atom products based on its 14-nanometer "Braswell" process, to be marketed under the Celeron and Pentium brands."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Intel Announces Q2 Results: Below Expectations, but Still Good

Subject: Editorial | July 17, 2013 - 09:34 PM |
Tagged: silvermont, quarterly results, money, Lenovo, k900, Intel, atom, 22 nm tri-gate, 14 nm

Intel announced their Q2 results for this year, and it did not quite meet expectations.  When I say expectations, I usually mean “make absolutely obscene amounts of money”.  It seems that Intel was just shy of estimates and margins were only slightly lower than expected.  That being said, Intel reported revenue of $12.8 billion US and a net income of $2 billion US.  Not… too… shabby.

Analysts were of course expecting higher, but it seems as though the PC slowdown is in fact having a material effect on the market.  Intel earlier this quarter cut estimates, so this was not exactly a surprise.  Margins came in around 58.3%, but these are expected to recover going into Q3.  Intel is certainly still in a strong position as millions of PCs are being shipped every quarter and they are the dominant CPU maker in its market.


Intel has been trying to get into the mobile market as it still exhibits strong growth not only now, but over the next several years as things become more and more connected.  Intel had ignored this market for some time, much to their dismay.  Their Atom based chips were slow to improve and typically used a last generation process node for cost savings.  In the face of a strong ARM based portfolio of products from companies like Qualcomm, Samsung, and Rockchip, the Intel Atom was simply not an effective solution until the latest batch of chips were available from Intel.  Products like the Atom Z2580, which powers the Lenovo K900 phone, were late to market as compared to other 28 nm products such as the Snapdragon series from Qualcomm.

Intel expects the next generation of Atom being built on its 22 nm Tri-Gate process, Silvermont, to be much more competitive with the latest generation offerings from its ARM based competitors.  Unfortunately for Intel, we do not expect to see Silvermont based products until later in Q3 with availability in late Q4 or Q1 2014.  Intel needs to move chips, but this will be a very different market than what they are used to.  These SOCs have decent margins, but they are nowhere near what Intel can do with their traditional notebook, desktop, and server CPUs.

To help cut costs going forward, it seems as though Intel will be pulling back on its plans for 14 nm production.  Expenditures and floor space/equipment for 14 nm will be cut back as compared to what previous plans had held.  Intel still is hoping to start 14 nm production at the end of this year with the first commercial products to hit at the end of 2014.  There are questions as to how viable 14 nm is as a fully ramped process in 2014.  Eventually 14 nm will work as advertised, but it appears as though the kinks were much more complex than anticipated given how quickly Intel ramped 22 nm.

Intel has plenty of money, a dominant position in the x86 world, and a world class process technology on which to base future products on.  I would say that they are still in very, very good shape.  The market is ever changing and Intel is still fairly nimble given their size.  They also recognize (albeit sometimes a bit later than expected) shifts in the marketplace and they invariably craft a plan of attack which addresses their shortcomings.  While Intel revenue seems to have peaked last year, they are addressing new markets aggressively as well as holding onto their dominant position in notebooks, desktops, and server markets.  Intel is expecting Q3 to be up, but overall sales throughout 2013 to be flat as compared to 2012.  Have I mentioned they still cleared $2 billion in a down quarter?

Source: Intel
Subject: Editorial

Taking a Fresh Look at GLOBALFOUNDRIES

It has been a while since we last talked about GLOBALFOUNDRIES, and it is high time to do so.  So why the long wait between updates?  Well, I think the long and short of it is a lack of execution from their stated roadmaps from around 2009 on.  When GF first came on the scene they had a very aggressive roadmap about where their process technology will be and how it will be implemented.  I believe that GF first mentioned a working 28 nm process in a early 2011 timeframe.  There was a lot of excitement in some corners as people expected next generation GPUs to be available around then using that process node.


Fab 1 is the facility where all 32 nm SOI and most 28 nm HKMG are produced.

Obviously GF did not get that particular process up and running as expected.  In fact, they had some real issues getting 32 nm SOI running in a timely manner.  Llano was the first product GF produced on that particular node, as well as plenty of test wafers of Bulldozer parts.  Both were delayed from when they were initially expected to hit, and both had fabrication issues.  Time and money can fix most things when it comes to process technology, and eventually GF was able to solve what issues they had on their end.  32 nm SOI/HKMG is producing like gangbusters.  AMD has improved their designs on their end to make things a bit easier as well at GF.

While shoring up the 32 nm process was of extreme importance to GF, it seemingly took resources away from further developing 28 nm and below processes.  While work was still being done on these products, the roadmap was far too aggressive for what they were able to accomplish.  The hits just kept coming though.  AMD cut back on 32nm orders, which had a financial impact on both companies.  It was cheaper for AMD to renegotiate the contract and take a penalty rather than order chips that it simply could not sell.  GF then had lots of line space open on 32 nm SOI (Dresden) that could not be filled.  AMD then voided another contract in which they suffered a larger penalty by opting to potentially utilize a second source for 28 nm HKMG production of their CPUs and APUs.  AMD obviously was very uncomfortable about where GF was with their 28 nm process.

During all of this time GF was working to get their Luther Forest FAB 8 up and running.  Building a new FAB is no small task.  This is a multi-billion dollar endeavor and any new FAB design will have complications.  Happily for GF, the development of this FAB has gone along seemingly according to plan.  The FAB has achieved every major milestone in construction and deployment.  Still, the risks involved with a FAB that could reach around $8 billion+ are immense.

2012 was not exactly the year that GF expected, or hoped for.  It was tough on them and their partners.  They also had more expenses such as acquiring Chartered back in 2009 and then acquiring the rather significant stake that AMD had in the company in the first place.  During this time ATIC has been pumping money into GF to keep it afloat as well as its aspirations at being a major player in the fabrication industry.

Continue reading our editorial on the status of GLOBALFOUNDRIES going into 2013 and beyond!!