At almost every iPhone presentation (yes, every iPhone!), We hear from Apple representatives that the new phone has become n times more powerful and energy efficient than the previous generation iPhone. The same can be said for the iPad. We are told “the iPhone 11 has the A13 Bionic processor” or “the new A12Z Bionic processor expands the capabilities of the iPad Pro,” and we nod smartly, because we understand that there is something cool behind these clever designations. Real power. But this very “power” does not depend at all on the names, you can even call the chip “A18X Power”, but in terms of performance it will be like in the fifth iPhone. No, everything is much more complicated, and its name is a nanometer process technology.
- 1 What is nanometer process technology?
- 2 IPhone processors
- 2.1 2010, iPhone 4, A4, 45nm (Samsung)
- 2.2 2011, iPhone 4S, A5, 45nm (Samsung)
- 2.3 2012, iPhone 5, 5C, A6, 32nm (Samsung)
- 2.4 2013, iPhone 5S, A7, 28nm (Samsung)
- 2.5 2014, iPhone 6, A8, 20nm (TSMC)
- 2.6 2015, iPhone 6s, A9, 14nm (Samsung), 16nm (TSMC)
- 2.7 2016, iPhone 7, A10 Fusion, 16nm (TSMC)
- 2.8 2017, iPhone X, 8, A11 Bionic, 10nm (TSMC)
- 2.9 2018, iPhone XS, XR, A12 Bionic, 7nm (TSMC)
- 2.10 2019, iPhone 11, A13 Bionic, 7nm (TSMC)
- 3 What determines the power of the iPhone?
What is nanometer process technology?
In very simple terms, a processor, be it a chip in an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, is made up of billions of tiny transistors and electrical gates that turn on and off during operations. These transistors are so small that their size is calculated not in millimeters, and not even in hundredths of a millimeter, but in nanometers.
Why are they made so small? The smaller the size of the transistor, the less power it consumes. At the same time, the efficiency of their work does not decrease, so manufacturers of processors (and smartphones) are so chasing after reducing the size of transistors.
In 1987, the leading semiconductor companies were producing chips using the 800nm process technology. By 2001, that number had dropped significantly to 130nm. Today you most likely hear about 7nm and 10nm chips. The first type usually refers to TSMC processors, while the second produces its own chips from Intel. In two years, we may see the first 3nm chip, which is already being worked on. Better performance isn’t the only benefit of smaller transistors. They are also capable of providing longer battery life and significant speed gains.
Apple’s iPhone processors have certainly improved significantly over the years as the size of the transistors in chips has shrunk. For example, the first iPhone (2007) and iPhone 3G used Samsung’s 90nm process. By 2009 and the introduction of the iPhone 3GS, Samsung was using a 65nm process technology.
Here’s how the iPhone processors have changed since 2010.
2010, iPhone 4, A4, 45nm (Samsung)
It was the first system on a chip (or, as it is also called, a chip – SoC), which Apple itself developed for its mobile devices.
2011, iPhone 4S, A5, 45nm (Samsung)
At the iPhone 4s launch, Apple said the A5 was capable of twice as many tasks as the A4 and had nine times the graphics performance.
2012, iPhone 5, 5C, A6, 32nm (Samsung)
Twice as fast as its predecessor with twice the graphics power.
2013, iPhone 5S, A7, 28nm (Samsung)
Again, Apple said that this chip was twice as fast and had twice the graphics power of the Apple A6.
2014, iPhone 6, A8, 20nm (TSMC)
The first non-Samsung chip that TSMC produced for Apple. The Apple A8 offered 25% more processor performance and 50% more graphics performance than the previous model. It also consumed 50% less energy.
2015, iPhone 6s, A9, 14nm (Samsung), 16nm (TSMC)
The Apple A9 processor, created by two companies at once, provided 70% more performance and 90% more graphics performance.
2016, iPhone 7, A10 Fusion, 16nm (TSMC)
Since then, the iPhone has gone completely from Samsung processors. Apple has reported 50% faster graphics performance with this chip.
2017, iPhone X, 8, A11 Bionic, 10nm (TSMC)
25% faster than the A10 Fusion and 30% faster than graphics.
2018, iPhone XS, XR, A12 Bionic, 7nm (TSMC)
Performance in single-core mode is 35% higher, and in multi-core mode – 90% higher than its predecessor.
2019, iPhone 11, A13 Bionic, 7nm (TSMC)
Apple claims that the two high-performance cores are 20% faster with a 30% reduction in power consumption and the four high-performance cores are 20% faster with a 40% reduction in power consumption compared to the A12.
What determines the power of the iPhone?
As you can see, the power of the iPhone directly depends on the process technology used in the processor. In the iPhone 11, it is almost 7 times less than in the iPhone 4. Hence the power and ability to run resource-intensive applications and iOS 13, which has changed a lot in comparison with iOS 4.
If we compare schematically the same processors, but manufactured using a 14-nanometer and 7-nanometer process technology, then the second one will be 25% more productive with the same energy expended. Or you can get the same performance, but the second one will be twice as energy efficient, which will allow you to read and write messages in our Telegram chat even longer.
In the first half of 2019, the same TSMC company began pilot production of chips using the 5nm process technology. The transition to this technology makes it possible to increase the packing density of electronic components in comparison with the 7-nanometer process technology by 80% and increase the speed by 15%. The 2020 iPhone is expected to receive a processor based on a new process technology.