Apple is well-known for designing the chips for its devices, from the iPhone and iPad to the Mac and Apple Watch. But where does Apple make these chips, and how does it achieve its competitive edge in the semiconductor industry? In this article, we will take a look at Apple’s homegrown chip lab, where the company develops and tests its custom silicon designs.
Where is Apple’s European Silicon Design Center?
One of the key locations for Apple’s chip lab is Munich, Germany, where the company has established its European Silicon Design Center. Apple has been in Munich for over 40 years, and it has grown to become its largest engineering hub in Europe, with more than 2,000 engineers working on various aspects of chip design and development.
Apple announced in March 2023 that it will invest an additional 1 billion euros in German engineering over the next six years as part of its Silicon Design Center expansion in central Munich. This is on top of the company’s previous 1 billion euro investment commitment from 2021 when Apple established Munich as the headquarters of its new European Silicon Design Center.
Apple said it will design and construct a state-of-the-art research facility at Seidlstrasse, with significant lab space, cutting-edge design, and a central location. The facility will enable Apple’s R&D teams to come together in new ways, enhancing collaboration and innovation.
In addition to the new Seidlstrasse facility, teams will occupy several additional R&D spaces at Denisstrasse and Marsstrasse as part of the Silicon Design Center expansion. The three new sites are located across the street from Apple’s recently opened R&D facility at Karlstrasse, creating a hub of invention and innovation in the center of Munich.
Apple’s Munich-based teams have contributed to the breakthrough custom silicon designs used in the latest Apple products, as well as critical cellular and power management innovations. This includes the all-new MacBook Pro featuring M2 Pro and M2 Max, Apple’s next-generation Mac silicon that brings even more power-efficient performance and battery life to users everywhere.
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said: “I couldn’t be more excited for everything our Munich engineering teams will discover — from exploring the new frontiers of 5G technology to a new generation of technologies that bring power, speed, and connectivity to the world.”
BruceBurke shared a post on Twitter:
“I couldn’t be more excited for everything our Munich engineering teams will discover — from exploring the new frontiers of 5G technology, to a new generation of technologies that bring power, speed, & connectivity to the world” said @tim_cook. https://t.co/yRjPCEuJtZ
— BruceBurke (@BruceQBurke) March 10, 2021
How is Apple’s Chip Partner Building a New 5nm Chip Factory in the U.S.?
Another important location for Apple’s chip lab is Arizona, USA, where the company’s chip partner TSMC is building a new factory that will mass-produce chips fabricated with a 5nm process. TSMC is the world’s largest contract chipmaker, and it has been supplying Apple with its advanced chips since the A8 chip in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in 2014.
TSMC announced in May 2020 that it will invest $12 billion to build a new chip factory in Phoenix, Arizona, with the support of the U.S. federal government and the state of Arizona. The factory is expected to begin production in 2024, and it will have a capacity of 20,000 wafers per month. A wafer is a thin slice of silicon that contains thousands of chips, and the size of the wafer determines how many chips can be produced at once.
TSMC has been gradually miniaturizing its process over the years, going from a 16nm A10 chip in iPhone 7 models to a 7nm A13 chip in iPhone 11 models and, most recently, a 5nm process for the iPhone 12’s A14 chip. The smaller the process, the more transistors can be packed into a chip, resulting in higher performance, lower power consumption, and smaller size.
TSMC’s 5nm process is the most advanced in the industry, and it is expected to power the next generation of Apple devices, such as the iPhone 13 and the Apple Silicon Macs. The new Arizona factory will be TSMC’s second 5nm chip factory after its flagship facility in Taiwan.
The Arizona factory will also be TSMC’s first U.S.-based chip factory, and it will help the company meet the growing demand for its chips from Apple and other customers, as well as reduce its reliance on Taiwan amid geopolitical tensions and supply chain disruptions.
TSMC’s chairman, Mark Liu, said: “We are honored to be selected by Apple, our long-time strategic partner, to establish a world-class fab in the U.S. We believe this project will benefit both TSMC and our customers in the long term.”
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What is Apple Doing With Its Secret Chip Fab in San Jose?
A third location for Apple’s chip lab is in San Jose, California, where the company reportedly acquired a secret chip fab in 2015. The chip fab, formerly owned by Maxim Integrated Products, is located on North First Street, relatively far away from Apple’s headquarters and other offices, in a more industrial silicon manufacturing corridor.
Apple has been very secretive about the chip fab, and it has not publicly disclosed its purpose or activities. However, some clues suggest that Apple uses the chip fab to test and prototype its custom silicon designs before sending them to TSMC for mass production. For example, Apple has filed several permits for the chip fab, indicating that it has installed various equipment and machinery for chip fabrication, such as lithography, etching, and deposition.
Apple has also hired several engineers and technicians with chip fabrication experience to work at the chip fab, according to their LinkedIn profiles. Some of them have previously worked at companies like Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm, which are all involved in chip design and manufacturing. Apple has also posted several job listings for the chip fab, seeking candidates with skills in chip fabrication, testing, and debugging.
Apple’s acquisition of the chip fab indicates that the company is serious about developing its chips and that it wants to have more control and flexibility over its chip design and production process. By having its chip fab, Apple can experiment with new technologies, optimize its chip performance and efficiency, and reduce its dependence on external suppliers.
Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Technologies, Johny Srouji, said: “We have a relentless focus on delivering the best products to our customers, and that means we have to design, develop, and manufacture our own custom silicon.”
Apple’s homegrown chip lab is a testament to the company’s innovation and ambition in the semiconductor industry. By designing and developing its chips, Apple can differentiate its products from its competitors and offer its customers a unique and seamless experience across its devices.
Apple’s chip lab spans across multiple locations, from Munich to Arizona to San Jose, where the company employs thousands of engineers and technicians who work on various aspects of chip design and development. Apple’s chip lab is one of the company’s most valuable assets, and it will continue to drive its future growth and success.