Both Samsung and TSMC confirmed as Apple A9 SoC manufacturers, Samsung version 10% smaller

Posted:
in iPhone edited October 2015
It appears Apple divvied out orders for its A9 system-on-chip design, deployed in the latest iPhone 6s and 6s Plus handsets, to both Samsung and TSMC, though Samsung's version boasts a significantly smaller footprint thanks to advanced fabrication technologies.




Researchers at Chipworks discovered the two different application processors -- both with A9 labeling -- in identical iPhone 6s hardware, confirming previous speculation that Apple would dual-source its next-gen SoC supply. Since Apple traditionally secures all AP orders from one manufacturer, the iPhone 6s' reliance on two producers suggests initial supply constraints.

Perhaps more interesting is that Samsung's A9, part number APL0898, is ten percent smaller than TSMC's iteration, marked as APL1022. The difference in size is to be expected, however, as Samsung is thought to be using a smaller-scale 14nm fabrication process, while TSMC relies on a 16nm FinFET process for its silicon. It is unclear if the two fabrication techniques yield noticeable variations in performance, though energy efficiency usually rises as an inverse function of semiconductor fabrication size. Chipworks is conducting further tests into the matter.

A report in July claimed Apple split A9 and A9X orders between longtime supplier Samsung and TSMC, though the rumor was left unconfirmed until now. The exact allotment is unknown, but rumors have pegged Samsung as responsible for a bulk of A9 orders, with overflow going to TSMC.

It is not yet known if Samsung will share production of Apple's A9X, which will debut in iPad Pro in November as Apple's most powerful A-series chip to date. The Korean tech giant could feasibly supply the entirety of A9X SoCs considering demand for the jumbo-sized tablet is not expected to match that of iPhone 6s.

Apple's iPhone 6s and 6s Plus got off to a blockbuster start with more than 13 million units sold over their first weekend of availability. Helping push the needle is China, which for the first time
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 34

    Apple must be expecting to sell a LOT of devices if they went with two suppliers.

     

    It will be interesting to see their benchmarks for performance and power consumption. This could be the first actual device in history that's made on two competing processes at the same time. This would allow direct comparisons to see if there are any significant differences between the two. People automatically assume Samsung 14nm is superior to TSMC 16nm, but now we'll actually be able to find out.

     

     

    EDITED: Went to the Chipworks site and they basically said the exact same thing I did:

     

    "With the same exact SoC design implemented in two different technologies, it just doesn’t get any better than this for us at Chipworks to benchmark the technologies!"

     

    Indeed.

  • Reply 2 of 34



    I'm curious if they did something like put one supplier in 6S and one in 6S+ models. Either if the 14 nm process produces better performance, then put it in the plus, or if it's a bigger difference in power usage then perhaps putting it into the 6S with the smaller battery.

  • Reply 3 of 34
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by derekson View Post

     



    I'm curious if they did something like put one supplier in 6S and one in 6S+ models. Either if the 14 nm process produces better performance, then put it in the plus, or if it's a bigger difference in power usage then perhaps putting it into the 6S with the smaller battery.


     

    Chipworks stated they found the two processors in two identical phones.

  • Reply 4 of 34
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by EricTheHalfBee View Post

     

     

    Chipworks stated they found the two processors in two identical phones.


     

    Interesting. I guess I should've read the whole article!

  • Reply 5 of 34
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Chipworks stated they found the two processors in two identical phones.

    So now are we going to get chipgate where people demand to know which chip is in their phone and if their phone runs a bit hot or they encounter battery life issues they'll be demanding Apple swap out their phone for one with the smaller chip. It wouldn't surprise me. :rolleyes:
  • Reply 6 of 34
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 13,377member
    Apple must be expecting to sell a LOT of devices if they went with two suppliers.
    That coild be part of it. The bigger problem is the all eggs in on basket fear. Especially with bleeding edge processes. The other issue here is that Apple has enough demand to tap an more than one plant.
    It will be interesting to see their benchmarks for performance and power consumption. This could be the first actual device in history that's made on two competing processes at the same time. This would allow direct comparisons to see if there are any significant differences between the two. People automatically assume Samsung 14nm is superior to TSMC 16nm, but now we'll actually be able to find out.
    Well this will be interresring. Im kinda doubting that we massive difference in power usage., performance should equal though. I would expect that the high level representation of the processor is the same for both processes.

    EDITED: Went to the Chipworks site and they basically said the exact same thing I did:

    "With the same exact SoC design implemented in two different technologies, it just doesn’t get any better than this for us at Chipworks to benchmark the technologies!"

    Indeed.

    Baring nothing else being different it soild be a rather interesting test.
  • Reply 7 of 34
    jonyojonyo Posts: 117member

    I wonder if there's any way to tell which A9 processor "version" is in my new 6s without taking the phone apart?

  • Reply 8 of 34
    It's obvious Apple can't do without Samsung. Samsung has superior technical abilities it's a sad not the brains to ally them.
  • Reply 9 of 34
    kpomkpom Posts: 656member
    Yet another rumor confirmed. Didn't TSMC produce all the A8 chips? My guess is that TSMC's 16nm process doesn't have as good of yields as Samsung's 14nm process, but Apple didn't want to give all of its business to Samsung (they are still competitors, albeit Samsung is much weaker now than 2 years ago). I wouldn't be surprised if the S2 for the next Apple Watch is made using one of these two processes. It would certainly improve battery life.
  • Reply 10 of 34
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,897member
    I'm guessing Apple put a couple lines of code in iOS that makes it run optimally/upclock downclock if it detects a certain SOC. if this then that something something I have no idea what I'm talking about I should probably stop typing…
  • Reply 11 of 34

    Now the nerds in the iPhone forums will be starting flame wars over whose A9 is the best. It never ends.

  • Reply 12 of 34
    rogifan wrote: »
    Chipworks stated they found the two processors in two identical phones.

    So now are we going to get chipgate where people demand to know which chip is in their phone and if their phone runs a bit hot or they encounter battery life issues they'll be demanding Apple swap out their phone for one with the smaller chip. It wouldn't surprise me. :rolleyes:

    It would be quite ironic if people demanded the one with the Samsung chip.
  • Reply 13 of 34
    I must admit I did not believe Apple would use two different chips. I was hoping for a TSMC slam dunk again. Oh well, at least TSMC is still in the running and Apple is being smart to not rely solely on Samsung to manufacture chips for the iPhone. The smartphone is too strategically important to allow its fate to be tied to Samsung.
  • Reply 14 of 34
    Significantly smaller? 10%?

    From those number it is clear that Samsung chip is 8.13% smaller which roughly translates into 2.85 percent on each side. That is hardly a significant difference even for smartphone sized logicboards imho
  • Reply 15 of 34
    Next model of the Samsung phone will sport an A9 clone.
  • Reply 16 of 34
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 13,377member
    kpom wrote: »
    Yet another rumor confirmed. Didn't TSMC produce all the A8 chips?
    I don't think anybody knows. It is interesting that ChipWorks got two different chips so quickly into the product launch. You would think that locality of orders would result in batches of one vendors processor going through the lot.
    My guess is that TSMC's 16nm process doesn't have as good of yields as Samsung's 14nm process, but Apple didn't want to give all of its business to Samsung (they are still competitors,
    I highly doubt that anybody at Apple looks at vendors like this. Rather the look for assurances that production demand can be meant which for Apple is increasingly a problem. This was a long time ago but at one time Apple was taking >80% of Samsungs capacity and shortly after that rumor a factory extension was done in Texas. Demand for Apples A series processors is massive now, there is a very good possibility that they need both partners just to have a bit of breathing room to get all the chips they need.

    Also if you follow the chip industry news there was a report a year or two ago that Global Foundries plant was validated to build Apples chips due to the risk of running out of capacity.
    albeit Samsung is much weaker now than 2 years ago). I wouldn't be surprised if the S2 for the next Apple Watch is made using one of these two processes. It would certainly improve battery life.

    There are strong rumors that TSMC will have 10 nm class chips in late 2016, which of course would be an even bigger up grade to the watch. Every micro watt makes a difference on the watch. The other thing is this: are yearly updates required or even desirable on a watch.
  • Reply 17 of 34
    tmaytmay Posts: 5,716member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post





    I don't think anybody knows. It is interesting that ChipWorks got two different chips so quickly into the product launch. You would think that locality of orders would result in batches of one vendors processor going through the lot.

    I highly doubt that anybody at Apple looks at vendors like this. Rather the look for assurances that production demand can be meant which for Apple is increasingly a problem. This was a long time ago but at one time Apple was taking >80% of Samsungs capacity and shortly after that rumor a factory extension was done in Texas. Demand for Apples A series processors is massive now, there is a very good possibility that they need both partners just to have a bit of breathing room to get all the chips they need.



    Also if you follow the chip industry news there was a report a year or two ago that Global Foundries plant was validated to build Apples chips due to the risk of running out of capacity.

    There are strong rumors that TSMC will have 10 nm class chips in late 2016, which of course would be an even bigger up grade to the watch. Every micro watt makes a difference on the watch. The other thing is this: are yearly updates required or even desirable on a watch.

    I get the impression that Apple wants to keep this capacity utilization, a monopsony position for them (remember flash memory bulk buys?) that delays competitor access to the latest nodes. With that, I suspect that there are A Series derivations on the roadmap that aren't as constrained by power efficiency that enable the next generation tvOS device(s) and perhaps iOS on the desktop, initially in the form of an iOS Mac Book clone.

  • Reply 18 of 34

    Huh. That is surprising.

    I certainly don't know much about chip baking, but didn't expect this. I wonder if the larger one runs any cooler than the smaller one. Or if additional airspace around the smaller one aids in cooling. (???)

  • Reply 19 of 34
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,364member
    kpom wrote: »
    Yet another rumor confirmed. Didn't TSMC produce all the A8 chips?
    Every report I've seen says Sammy and TSMC split A8 production for the 6 and 6+. Here's one from here at AI:
    http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/09/23/samsung-still-reportedly-supplying-40-of-apple-a8-chips-for-iphone-6-6-plus
  • Reply 20 of 34
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cornchip View Post



    I'm guessing Apple put a couple lines of code in iOS that makes it run optimally/upclock downclock if it detects a certain SOC. if this then that something something I have no idea what I'm talking about I should probably stop typing…



    Oh man you cracked me up, this is so good ha ha <img class=" src="http://forums-files.appleinsider.com/images/smilies//lol.gif" />

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