A report confirmed that Apple has booked capacity with Taiwanese-based TSMC to produce its next-generation processor, which we'll assume will be the 'M2', which could start in the final quarter of 2021. TSMC is also said to be building the new iPhone chip, dubbed the A15, due to feature in the iPhone 13, expected later this year.
While it’s no surprise that the A chip for the new iPhone is starting production in the next few months, we didn't really know what kind of schedule we might expect for new Mac chips until now. This suggests that while we might just be looking at a yearly update to the likes of the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) or MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020), the more likely time-frame might be somewhere between 12 and 18 months.
Assuming current rumours hold, it seems unlikely that these will be the chips for the rumoured upcoming 14-inch MacBook Pro or new redesigned iMac. Those new machines are said to be launching within the next few months with a new M1X chip more powerful than what's in the MacBook Air or Pro.
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The M1 Silicon chip, which was also produced by TSMC, was Apple’s first non-Intel CPU in its computers in 15 years. The M1 Silicon chip is unusual in PCs in that it is a single system on a chip (SoC), including the CPU, GPU, Cache and RAM. Combining all this on one chip in a custom architecture is one of the reasons it can offer such impressive performance.
The interesting thing about this report, from Digitimes, is that it says Apple can use TSMC's new 4nm production process for the new chips. “TSMC will move N4 (namely 4nm process) to volume production in the fourth quarter of 2021, ahead of the 2022 timeframe set previously, according to sources at fab toolmakers.”
At the moment, the most advanced chips use 5nm production – moving to 4nm means the transistors are smaller, which means you can fit more of them in the same space while also boosting power efficiency. That means you can make the chips more powerful without making them larger, and without increasing heat or power consumption (which is one of the advantages of the M1 chips).
The A14 chip is used in the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, as well as the iPad Air. The A series of chips have long been produced by TSMC and it looks like the new model – expected to be the A15 – will be no different, however it will go into production too early to use the new 4nm process.