January 6, 2024 — by Yao Liwei
According to recent leaks, Apple is set to introduce its newest M3 Ultra chip in the middle of this year. This chip will be the first product manufactured by Apple using TSMC’s N3E process node.
Previously released M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max chips have been built with TSMC’s N3B process node, alongside the A17 Pro chip, which also utilized the N3B node. The upcoming M3 Ultra and the A18 series chips are expected to continue using this same technology.
TSMC’s technical data reveals that they have planned five different types of 3nm process nodes, including N3B, N3E, N3P, N3S, and N3X. Among these, N3B was the first 3nm node to go into mass production, while N3E is its enhanced version. However, the disclosed technical specs indicate that the N3E doesn’t improve on the gate pitch compared to N3B.
Industry experts note that the first generation of 3nm N3B chips faced numerous problems: high costs and low yield rates of only about 70% to 80%, suggesting that at least 20% of the chips could have defects. By contrast, the third-generation N3E is reported to offer higher yields and lower costs. Moreover, due to poor metal stacking performance, among other reasons, N3B chips are not expected to be the mainstay node.
It’s also worth mentioning that the number of EUV (Extreme Ultraviolet) lithography layers TSMC is using has been reduced from 25 to 21, easing manufacturing challenges and improving yield rates. Despite reducing costs, this also means slightly lower performance due to the relatively lower transistor density compared to the N3B chips.
All in all, the Apple M3 Ultra chip is set to become one of the most powerful 3nm products in Apple’s history. The first device to feature this chip is anticipated to be the Apple Mac Studio, which is expected to make its official debut in the middle of the year. The anticipation for this product is high.