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’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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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…

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. If I remember correctly from way back when the iPhone 6s was first speculated upon, it was thought that Apple was going to go exclusively with TSMC until TSMC advised Apple that they would not be able to ramp production sufficiently to meet Apple’s full iPhone 6s needs. Thus Samsung was contracted as the prime source with TSMC allowed time to ramp up capability. When the iPhone 7 comes out, expect TMSC to be the prime or sole supplier.

  7. If you ever thought Apple, or any of its senior management (Ive NOT included) gave a rat’s ass what you thought, think, or will think, then you are an idiot. Apple sells to the masses, not to any group, individual, company, etc. Seriously, Tim Cook could care less about you than an ant he squashes under his feet. Oh, but he will make sure his keynotes appeal to you, that his multi-colored flag hits some of you the right way, etc. It is all a machine that churns out more wealth and power than 99.999% of you (MDN readers [current company incl.]) could not even fathom much less devise a way to get a piece of.
    1.6 times ten to the negative 5th power % .000016%.
    That is what someone making $100,000 a year is compared to a organization worth 624 Bn.

  8. To me the iPhone 4 was the last iPhone that had great battery life. Under heavy usage, I got a day and half and up to three days with regular use before needing to charge. Good or even great battery life has remained elusive and Apple’s battery life claims are paltry. A 2-3% dip to me falls within the margin of error. Apple is busy making these things thinner and lighter while maintaining the same tired old 10 hours of battery. Until they decide to tackle the battery issue or better battery technology comes out, we’re stuck with what we have. I keep an extended battery and use my iPad power adapter to charge it quickly. I’d be upset, however, if performance was badly affected. After all, CPUs are primarily about speed and performance.

    1. What iOS were you using on that iPhone 4? It shipped with version 4 and could be upgraded to 5, 6 and 7.

      Did you move to a new phone two years later, being the iPhone 5? If so then you last used the iPhone 4 with iOS 6?

      If that was the case, you need to turn off all the extra stuff in iOS 8 or 9 that use battery life that iOS 6 could not do.

      Then you would have a level comparison.

      I’ve found many users that have background refresh turned on for every app and cellular data turned on for every app. Two huge battery drains.

  9. Mdn.. Slow down…
    You make it sound like one phone is junk and the other great.

    Its not so.. They are both within apples 2-3% tolarance!

    I undistinguishable differance in real world application..

    Stop throwing fuel at the competitions Fud fire!

    1. Oh, so now making a time-lapse movie, which Apple includes in their Camera app and promotes as a feature, is no longer “real world usage?” v

      In a court of law, Apple loses this one.

      1. No they don’t if both phones exceed their stated battery life that apple posts on the specs web page.

        From previous in depth reviews on every version of the iPhone, reviewers were always amazed that battery life went quite a bit past Apple’s stated specs.

        This is a stupid first world non issue.
        What’s next? Some one sneezed on me, I’ll sue!!

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