Analyzing Apple’s statement on TSMC- and Samsung-stamped A9 chips

“Since we first learned that the A9 SoC in Apple’s iPhone 6s lineup is dual sourced – that is that it’s being made by two different vendors with two distinct manufacturing processes – one major question has remained in the process of reviewing these two phones,” Ryan Smith and Joshua Ho report for AnandTech. “The main issue under question here is whether the TSMC A9 or Samsung A9 have any difference in performance and power consumption. If there is a difference, the question then becomes whether the difference is significant.”

With the Apple-designed A9 chip in your iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus, you are getting the most advanced smartphone chip in the world. Every chip we ship meets Apple’s highest standards for providing incredible performance and deliver great battery life, regardless of iPhone 6s capacity, color, or model. Certain manufactured lab tests which run the processors with a continuous heavy workload until the battery depletes are not representative of real-world usage, since they spend an unrealistic amount of time at the highest CPU performance state. It’s a misleading way to measure real-world battery life. Our testing and customer data show the actual battery life of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, even taking into account variable component differences, vary within just 2-3% of each other. – Apple Inc.

Apple “are of course one of the few parties able to actually analyze a large number of phones, and perhaps more to the point, having a wide variation in battery life on phones – even if every phone meets the minimum specifications – is not a great thing for Apple. It can cause buyers to start hunting down phones with ‘golden’ A9s, and make other buyers feel like they’ve been swindled by not receiving an A9 with as low the power consumption as someone else,” Smith and Ho report. “To be clear there will always be some variance and this is normal and expected, but if Apple has done their homework they should have it well understood and reasonably narrow. The big risk to Apple is that dual sourcing A9s in this fashion makes that task all the harder, which is one of the reasons why SoCs are rarely dual sourced.”

Smith and Ho report, “As for AnandTech, we’ll continue digging into the matter. Unfortunately all of the iPhones we’ve received and purchased so far have used TSMC A9s – it’s a silicon lottery, after all – but whether there is a real and consistent difference between the TSMC and Samsung A9s is a very interesting question and one we’re still looking to ultimately be able to address.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We expect there to be some variable between SoCs, of course. Chips are stamped and sorted to certain tolerances. The dual-sourcing at different manufacturing processes (16nm vs. 14nm) is the problem here. And, again, the problem is: Apple is effectively subjecting customers to a random lottery drawing. Some customers get superior iPhones and some get inferior iPhones. All at the same price via unmarked boxes. This is wrong.

Apple should have higher regard for their customers and Apple customers should expect better from Apple.

If you are looking for a media outlet to defend Apple Inc. over Apple product users, you’re in the wrong place.

Apple’s claim of a 3% discrepancy in “real world usage” simply does not address the core issue. A clear example would be time-lapse recording, a feature Apple builds into their iPhones and promotes. Here’s how an iPhone 6s performs when recording a long video – again, “real world usage” via a feature that Apple promotes – with a TSMC-stamped A9 vs. a Samsung-stamped A9:

Apple may have made a huge mistake in having Samsung stamp inferior A9 chips – October 9, 2015
Apple claims iPhone 6s/Plus’ A9 battery performance only varies 2-3% between TSMC and Samsung variants in ‘real-world usage’ – October 8, 2015
Chipgate: Did you get the good A9 or the crap A9 in your iPhone 6s/Plus? – October 8, 2015


  1. I sure don’t want the Shame-dung chip. If it is a crap shoot as to which one you get, I am going with the plan to get a new phone every 12 months with the hope that the next chip will be exclusive to TSMC.

    1. People, don’t jump to any conclusion yet. Lets wait to see the facts. One video test does not prove anything. We need more sample size and test from reliable sources. For all we know, it could be one defective device. I am just surprise how quickly MDN reach this conclusion, knowing how often the media fabricate and exaggerate all things Apple. There is always variances for each chip, but if the chip really does not meet the Apple promise of 10Hrs usage, than there will be a class action lawsuit.
      Not all Intel chips perform the same either, some you can over clock higher than others, but as long as they meet a certain tolerance and specs, than its OK.

    2. I have a TMSC chip in my 6s and battery life is till shorter than on my 6 . I suspect that 3D Touch and live picture/ the camera have emerging to do with it.

      Um sure it will be tweaked Ina coming update

    1. Totally. Even MDN’s cherry picked example of performance differences – time lapse video – is totally underwhelming / unconcerning.

      Is MDN missing that there is no other “gate” with release and so trying to gin one up for hits?

    1. I think the article looked at it exactly that way: “even if every phone meets the minimum specifications – is not a great thing for Apple”

      Minimum specs = “standard”. Samsung chips are meeting the standard. TSMC ones are exceeding the standard.

      Honestly, if you’re paying the same amount, and there’s provable difference in CPU/battery performance based on source CPU, would you NOT want the best bang for your buck?

  2. “Some customers get superior iPhones and some get inferior iPhones.”-MDN
    Really? You’re claiming that Apple is making inferior iPhones? In the end, will this be another “______gate” with no real substance? Are you buying into the FUD a little early?

      1. If the price is an issue for you then you should be Android phones, most offer buy 1 get 1 free for your significant other.

        Clearly Apple has set a standard, and TSMC exceeds that standard and SameSong just meets the standard. The real story here is that a large portion of Apple’s phones exceed Apple’s standard. Glass half empty seems to fit your argument.

      2. There is variability in many products. Take cars..not all cars of the same make and model have engines that deliver the advertised HP..some produce more some less. My personal 2011 Mustang GT dynos at 390 RWHP…above the advertised crank HP. People running the same day with newer stangs (2013), were running between 350-380HP. Should they trade theirs in?

  3. As you use your phone, the disparity from phone to phone will get larger. The battery itself cannot be guaranteed to perform the same of another over the life of the phone. If you have an app running in the background or other such thing, additionally the guy who charges their phone 10 time a day vs every other day, again your milage will vary.

    So with respect to time laps photography, this is simply a straw man argument, because it’s meaningless. If you are serious into timeless, imo, you would bring along a backup power source.

    Apart from giving 2 cents to Samsung, which is deplorable, anyone clamoring for a TSMC chip, is doing so for the sake of vanity. Apple advertises a given performance. If you get that performance, then you can’t possibly sue Apple. Apple’s perspective – 3% is a rounding error given millions of phones and battery performance. They are not the least bit concerned.

    Apple needed to scale production. They did that, and they should be commended for it.

    On paper, the Samsung chip should use less power and run more efficient. I can assure you my “samsung” CPU is not running hot, but since I have nothing to compare it to, I can’t say for sure. Given a sample unit of one, it’s running great.

  4. The reality of global scale here . . . . TSMC has a finite capacity to produce these chips that far exceeds the demand for the iPhones in question.

    Had Apple not accepted this reality, it would be criticized for not meeting demand. And in that scenario, had word reach media that an alternative from Samsung was available but was not utilized, there would have been many saying Apple was stupid for not meeting demand based around a 3 percent performance deficiency . .. In fact, MDN’s take would resemble this: “We believe Tim Cook is the man for the job, but we have to question why a CEO of his intelligence would alienate millions of potential iPhone buyers who must wait weeks to get one over a meager 3 percent performance delay. We loathe Samsung as much as anyone, but you can’t jeopardize the company over something like this and may have to make hard decisions.” Granted, MDN is more upset that Apple wasn’t more transparent or won’t be moving forward . . . but the old adage that “you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” rings loudly here. Apple chose the better of two poor options.

  5. “Superior” and “inferior.” Please, in the real world 2% – 3% is fairly meaningless. Put another way, 97% – 98% were the same. Don’t forget, the enemy of good is perfect. MDN seems to be exhibiting a lynch mob mentality on this one.

  6. Like all the other “gates” that came and went, this, too, will be of NO FACTOR at the end of the day. Apple simply doesn’t do half-ass things this. There’s just too much riding on their reputation.

  7. Oh for Pete’s sake, MDN! Apple has told you the variation is not significant in everyday use, and that both chips meet Apple’ specifications. There are always variations. You sound like a Samsung spec maniac claiming that the spec is all that matters.
    Get a grip! Your hate for Samsung is making you irrational.

  8. I’ve bought 3 for my family and unfortunately they all have Samsung chip. I’ll return and keep returning them until I get 3 with TSMC chip. MDN example convinces me the discrepancies are significant enough to warrant my exchange. I paid top dollar for them and refuse to accept second-rated products.

    Apple, please show some decency and allow customers to select products with chips made by TSMC. It saves me the hassle and aggravation of making multiple returns and Apple the time and effort at dealing with the returns.

  9. MDN quote “If you are looking for a media outlet to defend Apple Inc. over Apple product users, you’re in the wrong place.” This is bullshit. I’ve been following you for two years and you’ve always supported Apple to the hilt. None of the demos I’ve seen so far prove that there’s any negligible difference in EVERYDAY USE. Loosen up MDN and understand that there’s loads of identical bits in every iPhone that comes from different suppliers.

  10. Wonder how you kids would react if the situation was reversed and it was Shitstain, I mean Samsung, who was putting out the superior chip? I love any situation though that puts Shatstinks in the cellar of tech component choice and look forward to the day my iPhone is Samsung component free. That will be a day LONG remembered…

  11. This same thing happened with the first generations retina Mac Pros – some would develop ghosting and some didn’t. Here, based on that video, the difference is the TSMC have better battery life and the Samsung are a little faster. Which one is better? How much small difference is this really going to make in 90+% of the people that use them?

  12. I want to see 10 phones tested.
    5 from Samsung and 5 from TSMC. If all 5 from TSMC vary 2-3% among themselves and also 2-3% compared to Samsung, then this is a non-issue.

    The other piece of info that is missing from these articles is how do these phones compare to Apple’s “stated” battery life. If they all exceed it, then this is a non-issue.

    But there will still be people that want that extra 2% above Apple’s stated battery life.

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