Apple CPUs rolling off the line at TSMC

Last April’s test seems to have worked out

Apple LogoSources in Taiwan tell SemiAccurate that there are currently Apple marked chips coming off the lines at TSMC (NYSE:TSM). While this is interesting news on it’s own, the implications are much more serious.

Last April, we exclusively told you that Apple had taped out chips of somewhat unknown provenance, but definitely an ARM based CPU, at TSMC. The speculation among those in the know was that they were A5s, and that they were simply test chips. It looks like the tapeout info was dead on, but the specifications were a tad off, as was the test side of the run.

Sources at TSMC now tell SemiAccurate that the volumes coming off the lines are far more than any possible test, and look like a large volume run. The chips themselves are still a bit of an open question, some say A5 variants, others say A6/new design, all say ARM CPU.

The first interesting implication is that CPUs started trickling out a few weeks ago, and are now ramping hard. With full volume production in progress, the chips have to go somewhere, silicon loses value faster than raw fish on a hot day. This heavily implies new Apple iSomethings in late summer, and there is no shortage of rumors floating there.

Next, and more important is the simple fact that TSMC is building chips for Apple. The possibilities are nearly boundless here, and none of them bode well unless you are a lawyer for Samsung or Apple. If you are, then you probably know the implications, and are flipping through the 2012 Lamborghini catalog to see if you can get custom his and hers paint jobs for your new toys. It will likely be a lucrative year or five.

You see, A4s were fabbed by Samsung, and are said to be heavily based on Samsung designs. The A5 design is a little more murky, but it is unlikely to be all Apple, and it is definitely fabbed by Samsung. If the new chips are fabbed by Samsung and TSMC is just being used as extra capacity, then only the IP and design lawyers will get new wheels.

If the new chips are being made at TSMC instead of Samsung, then things get ugly. Why? Because Samsung is in the process of building a fab that is more or less dedicated to Apple, or so insiders tell is. If this is true, and Apple just said, “Nice of you to build that for us, but we are going over to TSMC” at this late stage, you can be pretty sure Samsung won’t be pleased. Lawyers should look more at floating toys measured in tens of meters rather than toys with wheels.

More importantly to people who buy toys that cost less than numbers commonly associated with government debt ceilings should also benefit. Why? Once again, if there is a falling out between the two tech giants, there could be an awful lot of high quality screens and flash on the market in a hurry. Officially, problems in one arm of a large company aren’t reflected in the actions of an unrelated unit, but you never know.

Which scenario is it? Who knows. Could TSMC making Apple CPUs be the underlying cause of the Samsung/Apple tiff of late? Possibly. Even if it isn’t the sole cause, wherever the chips end up being made, we are very likely seeing a contributing factor to a very public shouting match. Strap in, this one is going to be a lot of fun, as long as you aren’t paying the lawyers.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate