Apple held a hardware event earlier this month, where the Californian company announced a new era for its Mac computers. Like its iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, Apple is now transitioning its macOS machines to its own custom-designed processors. Instead of using chips from industry-standard Intel, Apple has created its own silicon to work seamlessly with macOS. Apple claims the new MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro – the first notebooks powered by its so-called M1 chip boast battery life of 18- and 20-hours, respectively.
On top of that, the M1-fuelled notebooks are also significantly faster than the previous Intel-packed machines, Apple says. That’s because the M1 uses the same 5 nanometre process found in the record-breaking A14 Bionic processor that powers the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and redesigned iPad Air. In a nutshell, the smaller die means there is less physical distance for the information to travel. Thanks to the integrated RAM, everything should load faster and – since there’s less distance for all of the components to communicate with one another – it uses less power too.
As it stands, there are only two companies on the planet capable of producing chipsets using a five nanometre process – TSMC and Samsung.
Apple has used TSMC to produce the silicon powering its smartphones for years, but the extra demand that switching its best-selling MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac Mini (not to mention the remaining models in the Mac line-up over the next year and a bit) could force the Californian company to draft in Samsung to help too, analysts believe. Of course, we’ll have to wait until the next quarterly earnings call from Samsung to see whether its foundry sees a dramatic increase in revenue.
Apple has turned to Samsung to help produce its chips in the past. And the company regularly relies on the South Korean firm, which competes directly with the iPhone on store shelves with the much-loved Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series, for the OLED touchscreen used on the iPhone since the launch of the iPhone X.
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Analysts have good reason to believe that Samsung will benefit from the move from Intel to M1 in the Mac range. That’s because the A14 Bionic already accounts for 25 percent of TSMC’s entire 5 nanometre production capacity. And that’s just the processor that powers the four new iPhone models and new iPad Air.
With all MacBook, Mac Mini, iMac and Mac Pro machines moving to Apple’s own chipsets in the coming months – not to mention a number of other companies, like Qualcomm, NVIDIA, AMD and MediaTek looking to produce their own 5nm chipsets – TSMC will need to expand pretty rapidly, or lose some of these customers to Samsung’s competing 5nm foundry. Unfortunately, expanding its a time-consuming and cost-intensive process, so it’s unlikely to help with the batch of orders winging its way to TSMC right now.
On top of all that, Samsung has been undercutting TSMC in a bid to win business from its rivals, so switching to the rival firm could help Apple increase its margins on the new MacBook models.
Samsung has been investing in its 5nm foundry for years – waiting for this moment. And it could finally pay dividends for the company. Not only that, unlike Apple, when it unveils its own in-house system-on-a-chip designed using the 5nm process, it will be able to produce the silicon in-house too, without being reliant on another company’s supply chain.
The new M1-powered MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are available to buy in high street stores from today. Those who pre-ordered their machines from Apple last week, following the announcement, should start to receive their new notebooks in the post from this morning. Since the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro look almost identical to their predecessors, which launched earlier this year, you’ll need to be careful when shopping for a new laptop from Apple.