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What is a 3nm processor and why does it matter?

The iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max have just been announced and it features the Apple A17 Pro chip. The new chip uses a 3nm process, but what does that mean?

Knowing what a nanometer is, in the context of computer chips, isn’t something every consumer needs to know. But, it is a key part of the technology and, when a big advancement happens, it can mean a lot for the user experience.

With the Apple A17 Pro chip, the iPhone has moved onto a 3nm process. These are the key details of what it means.

What is a 3nm processor?

Nanometres (nm) indicate the size of a process node on a chip, such as a 3nm process. A smaller process means an increased number of transistors can be fitted onto a chip. 

In simple terms, the smaller the process in nanometres, the more performance and efficiency on offer. However, this is a broad view as advancing technologies and different methods used by different manufacturers can impact overall performance. 

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Nevertheless, especially when compared with other chips used by the same manufacturer, it can provide a strong indicator of a leap in performance in efficiency. This is evidenced by the move from Apple’s 4nm A16 Bionic chip to the 3nm A17 Pro.

Apple is touting a 6-core GPU that’s 20% faster as well as a team-up of 2 high-performance CPU cores and 4 high-efficiency CPU cores which is up to 10% faster, adding up to the fastest single thread performance on any mobile platform, according to Apple. The 16-core neural engine is set to be twice as fast. The A17 Pro also offers hardware-accelerated ray tracing that’s 4x faster than software ray tracing on the A16 Bionic.

MediaTek also announced its first 3nm Dimensity chip, which it claims can provide 18% higher performance while using 32% less power. These chips are set to be available on devices like smartphones, tablets, cars and more in the second half of 2024.

The results of these kinds of advancements should lead to increased performance and increased battery life for the end user.

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