Future Intel CPUs might be made by Apple chipmaker TSMC

As Apple begins the two-year journey to dumping Intel processors via the M1 processor, a new report suggests that some future Intel CPUs might be made by Apple chipmaker TSMC.

More precisely, it raises the possibility that Intel might ask, but the Taiwanese chipmaker might say no …

CNET reports that the reason for Intel’s potential interest is TSMC’s technological lead over Intel thanks to its 5nm processes.

 Intel, which manufactures its own chips, has struggled. It’s only now moving in earnest from an earlier manufacturing technology with 14-nanometer features to a newer 10nm process after years of delays. Even next year’s Rocket Lake chip for desktop computers will still be built with the 14nm process […]

Intel is giving itself new options, including the ability to use other manufacturers like TSMC to build its chips.

But analyst Linley Gwennap thinks TSMC might not want the business.

The possibility that Intel could reclaim manufacturing once it fixes its problems could spook TSMC away from investing enough to meet Intel’s massive demand.

Losing Apple’s business isn’t Intel’s only problem. AMD – which already outsources chip fabrication to TSMC – is pulling ahead.

“AMD is a greater threat in the near term,” said Tirias Research’s Kevin Krewell, who noted that PC makers aren’t going to be quick to drop the industry standard family of x86 chips.

AMD has done well with high-end desktop processors, chiefly for gamers, and is making inroads in the server market, too. It’s using Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. for manufacturing, taking advantage of its miniaturization progress to cram more circuitry onto new chips. Its new Zen 3 chip design offers a substantial speed boost.

There’s also a small possibility of PC manufacturers looking to ARM-based processors to replace Intel, but this hasn’t gone well in the past, as The Verge notes.

Back in 2012, Microsoft launched an Arm-based version of its new-at-the-time Surface tablet, dubbed the Surface RT. It was a thin computer / tablet hybrid, and at $499, it seemed like a promising new Arm-based device.

Confusingly, though, the Surface RT didn’t run the also-new-at-the-time Windows 8. Instead, it ran Windows RT, which was a stripped-down version of Windows 8 that couldn’t run traditional Windows programs. Even Microsoft support reps had trouble explaining what would and wouldn’t work on Windows RT. That confusion probably contributed to the Surface RT’s eventual failure. In its fiscal Q4 2013 earnings, Microsoft recorded a $900 million loss because of Surface RT “inventory adjustments.”

The Surface RT’s failure didn’t stop Microsoft from making more runs at Arm-based Surface computers, though. The company released the Surface Pro X last year, which has an Arm processor co-developed by Microsoft and Qualcomm. We thought the hardware looked great, and once again, the Arm processor let Microsoft make it thinner than the Intel-powered Surface Pro. But while Windows itself was well-optimized for Arm, many apps were slower than they would be on an Intel computer and some didn’t work at all.

Nokia was the only other company to give it a try, and that didn’t go well either.

Intel’s closest competitor to Apple’s M1 chip is Tiger Lake, which is set to launch in new thin and light laptops in the fall, but is still made with a 10nm process.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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