A17 Bionic with N3E Fabrication may Power iPhone 16 and 16 Plus in 2024
Apple’s A16 Bionic is currently one of the best-performing flagship chipsets on a smartphone. Despite having a 6-core configuration with only two performance cores, it doesn’t compromise on incredible power. Competing phones use 8-core configurations with more Efficiency and Performance cores.
We can attribute a large part of the success of Apple’s chips to TSMC. Only TSMC and Samsung can mass-fabricate high-end 3nm and 4nm smartphone chips. Chip fabrication involves thermal oxidation and creating electronic circuits on a wafer under liquid Nitrogen to maintain ideal conditions.
Historically, TSMC chips have better efficiency and also thermal management. TSMC invests heavily in Research & Development and has better yield rates. The yield rate constitutes the percentage of silicon chips that perform properly on the wafers. The higher the yield rate, the easier it is to mass-produce the chip.
For example, Samsung-made 4nm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 reportedly has a terrible yield rate between 10% and 35%. This means that at least 65% of the chips failed on the wafer. TSMC’s 4nm 8+ Gen 1 has a much better yield rate that’s over 70%.
Since TSMC has the better fabrication process for 4nm and 5nm chips, it’s no wonder Apple stuck to TSMC for 3nm chips too. Since chips are powerful for most smartphone tasks, companies are now focusing on efficiency per watt. Apple’s chips are already class-leading in this regard since the 14 Pro Max outlasts flagship Android phones despite comparatively smaller 4300mAh batteries.
We’ll still see improvements to chips in terms of smaller transistors. When companies specify 4nm or 5nm, it means that the size of transistors in the chip is roughly 4nm/ 5nm according to laboratory testing. We can’t trust these numbers since there isn’t a universal standard of chip measurement, but we still know that the transistors are marginally slower.
The transistors increased from 15 Billion on the A15 Bionic to 16 Billion on the A16 since they went from a 5nm TSMC chip to a 4nm chip. With the A17, we’ll probably see 17 or 18 Billion transistors or more. However, Apple plans to cut costs with 3nm chips for their baseline 2024 iPhones.
The Pro models for 2023- the 15 Pro and Pro Max, will reportedly get TSMC’s Apple-exclusive fabrication process. The N3B node is the original 3nm node that TSMC created in collaboration with Apple. It will be used on the upcoming M3 MacBooks, iPhone 15 Pro, and Pro Max. However, this node is much more expensive for both Apple and TSMC.
It has a much better performance compared to the commercially accessible N3E node. N3E isn’t as expensive but less advanced since it has a lower transistor density. It also has fewer extreme ultraviolet layers and is less efficient. The differences may be marginal in the broad scheme, but it’s cheaper for Apple.
Since 3nm chips are so hard to mass produce, TSMC reportedly scaled down performance goals for the A17 Bionic. Reports say the yield rate is only 55%, which isn’t as good as their 4nm chips. Since Apple is probably not moving away from N3B for the 15 Pro, the A17 Bionic based on the N3E fabrication is perhaps reserved for the baseline iPhone 16 and iPhone 16 Plus models.