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Components

Apple’s true next-gen chip upgrades might not be ready until 2023 — here’s why

By Sanuj Bhatia June 1, 2022, 10:30 am
Apple M2 chipset Source: MacRumors

With WWDC 2022 just on the horizon, leaks and rumors have been circulating about Apple announcing the new MacBook Air at the event. Even though the company is expected to release a new MacBook Air with a brand new chipset at the WWDC, some new reports suggest that Apple won't be offering a huge leap over the last generation and could be saving true next-gen upgrades for its chipsets for 2023.

Apple's upcoming MacBook Air is expected to bring a number of changes: new design, display, colors, MagSafe, and much more. However, one of the key highlights of the upcoming Air is expected to be the next-generation M-series chip. Apple launched the MacBook Air 2020 with the ARM architecture-based M1 chipset, but it hasn't been updated since then and is long due for an upgrade.

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Apple M1 MacBook Air display

Many leaks and rumors have suggested that Apple will launch the new MacBook Air with the next-generation M-series chip, which will probably be called the Apple M2. Although it might be true, and Apple could announce the new chip with "M2" branding later this month, it is now being reported that Apple has had to delay the major upgrades that M2 was supposed to bring to the next year.

On the other hand, Apple is also expected to announce the new iPhone 14 series this year. Rumors up until now have suggested that only the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max models are expected to get the new A16 Bionic chip while the lower-cost models, iPhone 14 and 14 Max, are said to use the same A15 Bionic chip as the iPhone 13 series. Popular leaker ShrimpApplePro claims that A16 Bionic will be manufactured with the same process as the ‌last generation's A15 Bionic and won't provide a generational upgrade over the last-gen. Instead, Apple is saving the performance upgrades for its M-series chips designed for Macs.

Despite this, why is Apple delaying the upgrades it was expected to offer with the second generation M-series chip? Well, it seems that it's not Apple's fault and is primarily due to the delay on TSMC's end (Apple's chip supplier).

While the Apple M1 is based on TSMC's 5nm node process, it was earlier expected that Apple would upgrade the M2's architecture to 4nm. It was speculated that the company had been holding the release of the M2 chip because it wanted the chipset to be fabricated on a newer node architecture.

It, however, appears that TSMC has delayed the mass production based on its N4P (4nm) and N3 (3nm) technology to 2023. Due to this, N5P (5nm) and N4 (4nm) are the only viable technologies available. And since the N4 node architecture doesn't offer any "meaningful" improvements over the N5P, Apple will stick with the 5nm node process for the A16 Bionic and the Apple M2 chips, according to the popular Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

And since TSMC is delaying mass production based on the N3 process, the true next-gen Apple silicon will likely arrive in 2023 only. It is expected that the switch to the 3nm node process will offer a generational improvement over N5 and its different derivatives (N5P and N4).

But where does this leave Apple, and most important of all, us consumers? Assuming Apple launches a new MacBook Air at the WWDC event, it's not clear what nomenclature it use will for the upcoming silicon. Since the announcement of the original M1, Apple has introduced the M1 Pro, Max, and Ultra chipsets. It is also said to be working on a new M1 Extreme processor, but it likely won’t be the option for the upcoming MacBook Air.

And, well, the company could still use the M2 moniker for the new chipset. Even though the new chipset will not be based on a new architecture, it will still be an upgrade over the 2020's Apple M1. The new M2 branding could also help Apple boost its sales. And when TSMC starts minting 3nm node chips next year, it could update the MacBook Air with the new chipset.

Another strategy Apple could adopt is to use the yet-to-be-announced version of the M1 chip. As Ming-Chi Kuo points out, the upcoming MacBook Air's all-new design is already a "big selling point", so the chipset upgrade could be less significant for this device. Instead, the company may see more advantage in debuting the first ‌M2‌ chips (based on a new architecture with performance upgrades) on the next-gen 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models.

But, for now, it's all hanging in the 'air'. We'll get to know more on June 6 when Apple kicks off its WWDC 2022 officially.

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