If there’s one thing Apple can boast about, it’s their economic power. Tim Cook’s company can spend billions on product development, many of which are differentiators. For instance, processors.
Apple’s A17 processor was the first chip to use TSMC’s N3 (3nm lithography) process technology, and this week, the company has expanded its N3 range with a family of M3 chips designed for desktop and laptop PCs.
Analyst Jay Goldberg from Digits to Dollars believes that the company has spent up to 1 billion dollars just on the design and tape-outs of the M3.
We have to assume that the recording costs [of the M3 series] for just the three [SoCs] have to be close to $1 billion,” Goldberg wrote. “Very few companies can afford such a large undertaking.
A family of distinctive and innovative chips
For now, Apple’s M3 family consists of three rather complex CPUs: M3, with 25 billion transistors, designed for high-end desktop computers, laptops, and tablets; M3 Pro, with 37 billion transistors, for mid-range machines; and M3 Max, with 92 billion transistors, for high-end laptops and basic workstations.
Each chip is designed to cater to different computing needs, from everyday tasks to professional coding, heavy engineering simulations, and video production.
Apple’s basic M3, which includes eight general-purpose cores and a new integrated GPU, is as complex as AMD’s acclaimed Phoenix processor (25 billion vs. 25.4 billion transistors), while the M3 Pro and M3 Max are considerably more complex.
In fact, with 92 billion MOSFETs inside, the M3 Max is the most complex single-piece processor released to date (although, given what we know about some upcoming AI processors, not for long).
Apple used TSMC’s N3 manufacturing process to increase the cost efficiency of its M3 family, a risky move because the technology is relatively new, but it seems to have been worthwhile.
And we can only guess if Apple’s M3 is cheaper to manufacture than AMD’s Phoenix based on rumors about TSMC’s quotes, but smaller chips tend to be easier to yield and produce.
Apple spent $26.251 billion on R&D in 2022, and a significant portion of this expenditure was allocated to chip design. The scale of the investment in silicon, overall, and in the M3 series SoCs, in particular, indicates that Apple is one of the few companies with the financial capacity to undertake such development efforts.