LONDON – Foundry chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) – said to have started trial manufacturing of the ARM-based A6 processor for Apple – will put the IC through another tape-out for the "production design" in the first quarter of 2012, according to the Taiwan Economic News. As a result of the respin of the design, production volumes of the A6 will not be available from TSMC until the second quarter of 2012 at the soonest, the report said referencing unnamed industry sources.
The A6, rumored to be a quad-core design, was expected to debut inside a yet more powerful iPad 3 tablet computer from Apple, which some thought could arrive this year.
One potential reason of the respin is that TSMC plans to use 3-D stacking technologies along with its 28-nm manufacturing process in the production of the A6 for Apple. The use of a specialized silicon interposer and bump-on-trace interconnect may produce specific requirements in the main processor die.
Samsung has been the sole supplier of the previous iterations of the Apple processor, the A4 and the A5. However, the use of company-proprietary packaging technology would count against the possibility that Apple is seeking to qualify both Samsung and TSMC and operate them as mutual second-sources.
A major reason why TSMC has not handled Apple's processor manufacturing to date is because the company has effectively been sold out with existing customers such as Nvidia and Qualcomm, the report said.
TSMC now expects manufacturing capacity utilization to dip to 92 percent in the third quarter, from 99 percent, and has forecast that its combined revenue will drop by between 6 and 8 percent sequentially in the third quarter, normally a quarter when sales are growing.
Packaging house Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc. partnered with TSMC to develop the 3-D chip packaging technology and so should benefit from the A6 processor business in 2012, the report said.
I don't think Apple should be worried. They are still relying on Samsung, just using TSMC as second source to keep pressure on Samsung for low price. Pretty standard technique almost every big fabless company uses this trick.