TSMC is struggling with the efficiency of its new 3nm manufacturing yield, with the semiconductor giant currently hitting a yield rate of just 55%, far below the standard expected, according to a July 13 report in technology media outlet wccftech. The low yield rate has reportedly led Apple to only pay for qualified wafer batches instead of establishing a standard rate with TSMC. Apple occupies 90% of TSMC’s 3nm process production capacity for its A17 Bionic and M3 chips. 

Why it matters: The iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max are widely expected to become the first smartphones powered by TSMC’s 3nm process chipset. However, TSMC’s yield rate of 55% may cause it to lose customers to competitors such as Samsung, which has reported a 60% to 70% yield rate with its 3nm process.

Details: Brett Simpson, senior analyst at Arete Research, claimed that TSMC and Apple have reached a special deal, through which Apple will only pay for functional circuits, rather than paying standard pricing for the entire wafer. If the 3nm yield rate improves to a regular 70%, the deal may be adjusted so that Apple pays up to $17,000 per wafer in the second half of 2024.

  • The monthly production of TSMC’s 3nm wafers is expected to reach 100,000 pieces by the end of 2023 to meet the demand for the iPhone 15 series smartphones. 
  • In 2024, Apple may switch to TSMC’s N3E process technology instead of N3B process technology, due to the lower production cost and higher yield rate of the N3E, according to the wccftech report. However, the N3E process may reduce the processor performance of the A17 Bionic and M3, and a final decision has therefore not yet been made. N3B is the original 3nm node created in partnership with Apple, while N3E is the simpler version produced for the majority of TSMC’s customers.
  • The iPhone 15 series will begin mass production in August, with the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max using the A17 Bionic processor. As Apple’s first chip manufactured with a 3nm process, the A17 Bionic is expected to bring major performance and efficiency improvements over its predecessors the A14, A15, and A16 chips, which used a 5nm process.
  • Apple plans to release a 13-inch MacBook Pro with its M3 chip, as well as 14-inch and 16-inch models of the MacBook Pro with M3 Pro and M3 Max chips, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Context: In May, Samsung said in its first quarterly earnings report that its 3nm chip process had an impressive 60% to 70% yield rate. Samsung previously struggled with its 4nm process, which caused Qualcomm to partner with TSMC for the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 and Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 over the Korean company.

  • TSMC’s 4nm process yield rate was reported to be around 70% to 80%, while Samsung only achieved approximately 50%, according to Digitimes. As Samsung gradually improves its 3nm and 4nm process yield rates, the company may regain former customers it lost to TSMC.

Jessie Wu is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. She covers consumer electronics, semiconductor, and the gaming industry for TechNode. Connect with her via e-mail: jessie.wu@technode.com.