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Intel Core M vs Apple A8!

Intel Core M vs Apple A8!
by Daniel Nenni on 09-14-2014 at 10:00 am

 There were two big announcements last week right in my backyard and I missed them both! Instead, I was in Taiwan investigating yet another big development and all three of these events will intersect next year, absolutely.

At IDF in San Francisco Intel outlined the new 14nm Core M. This is an impressive CPU, one that will fill the now half empty Intel fabs. I was even told that the shuttered fab in Arizona will be re-opened for added 14nm capacity in 2015. That is great news as there is nothing sadder than an empty $5B fab, absolutely.

Apple announced the hotly anticipated A8 (iPhone6) and was much more forthcoming with technical information than before. They certainly are proud of this SoC and if you take a close look at the specifications you will know why. It is….. wait for it….. LEGENDARY! Apple disrupts the semiconductor industry yet again!

The news out of Taiwan is the TSMC 16FF+ process, which Morris Chang said would be delayed until 2H 2015, has been pulled into 1H 2015 which puts it into reach of the coveted Apple business. Since Apple releases new iProducts in the Fall of each year the foundries have to lockstep with the rest of the Apple supply chain and deliver wafers in 1H 2015.

Going back to my blog, Who will Manufacture Apple’s Next SoC?, I suggested four different scenarios based on process release schedules. Now that TSMC 16FF+ is back in Apple lockstep TSMC wininng the A9 is not just possible, it is probable. In fact my prediction now is that Apple will use both Samsung 14nm and TSMC 16FF+, splitting them between the iPhone and iPad products. The foundry with the best yield wins! Anybody want to bet a lunch on this?

The interesting thing to note about the A8 vs Core M is that at TSMC 20nm Apple was able to pack in 2B transistors while Intel was only able to pack in 1.3B at 14nm. Apple’s die size is a tad larger (89mm2 vs 82mm) but seriously, this is a 20nm planar versus 14nm FinFET comparison and where is Intel’s so called transistor density superiority?!?!?!?! Let’s wait for the teardown and benchmarks but this has got to be a humbling experience for Intel. Kind of like when Apple released a 64-bit SoC last year and Qualcomm wet themselves.

The other interesting thing to note from IDF is that BK (Intel CEO) talked up the coming Sofia SoC which is manufactured by TSMC at 28nm. Sofia is for the low end smartphone market. The question I have is: Why didn’t BK talk up Broxton which is the 14nm SoC targeted at the Apple A8 class of SoCs? The answer I believe is that Broxton is cancelled and Intel’s mobile strategy is being scaled back. How about a little transparency here Intel? Now that the PC and server market has come back to life and your 14nm fabs will be full of CPUs, are you going to give up on SoCs? Or are you pushing your smartphone strategy out to 10nm?

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