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Apple to drop chip-baking partnership with Samsung?

TSMC said to forge Apple's next-gen 20nm, quad-core ARM chips

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Apple is planning to shift production of its ARM-based microprocessors from Samsung to the Taiwanese chip-baking giant TSMC as early as next year, according to a report by the China Economic News Service (CENS).

The report, spotted by MacRumors, cites CitiGroup Global Markets analyst J.T. Hsu as saying that TSMC will be Apple's sole supplier of 20nm quad-core processors, with volume production to begin in the fourth quarter of 2013. He also noted that Apple began its 20nm chip-verfication process at TSMC in August of this year.

Hsu told CENS that the future quad-core chips were intended for Apple's "iPad, iTV and even Macbook," turning up the heat on two rumors that have been simmering for months: that Apple is planning a move into the television market, and that an ARM-based MacBook is in the works.

The television rumor has cooled in recent months, and the ARM-based MacBook rumor remains just that – a rumor – but Hsu's report of forthcoming quad-core Apple processors may provide one explanation as to why both of those projects have yet to see the light of day: Apple may be waiting until it can provide them with more oomph than it can squeeze from its current 32nm dual-core A6 processor, found in the iPhone 5, and its 45nm dual-core A5X, which powers the current iPad. Both are provided to Apple by Samsung.

When The Reg reported on Thursday that Apple had hired top Samsung microprocessor architect Jim Mergard to be one of Cupertino's growing chip-design team, we speculated that the growing bad blood between the Korean electronics giant and Cupertino might soon result in Apple taking its chip fabrication – currently done by Samsung – off to another foundry, possibly TSMC.

If Hsu is correct, it will turn out that we were right – although making that prediction was not exactly an act of perspicacious genius. ®

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