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TSMC Preparing To Manufacturer A6X Chip As Apple Looks to Ditch Samsung 172

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the about-that-lawsuit dept.
An anonymous reader writes with reports that TSMC is preparing to do a first test run of Apple's A6X chipset currently manufactured by Samsung. The TSMC manufactured chips will feature a process shrink from 32nm to 28nm, and there's a good chance Apple will grant them the contract for the next generation A7 chip. From SlashGear: "The test will kick off in Q1 2013, The China Times reports, with TSMC producing a new, 28nm version of the existing 32nm A6X that Samsung has been producing for the full-sized iPad 4th-gen; the smaller chip, which will likely be more power efficient as well, will debut in a new iPad 5th-gen and iPad mini 2."
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TSMC Preparing To Manufacturer A6X Chip As Apple Looks to Ditch Samsung

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @11:44AM (#42450513)

    Now we can wait for the hardware repetition of the Google Maps fiasco. Whose head is going to roll this time when the shit hits the fan?

    • by neokushan (932374) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @11:53AM (#42450581)

      This is slightly different. The same chip is being produced (it's Apple's design), it's just a different manufacturer. No doubt Apple will be paying per chip and not per wafer, so if anything does fuck up it'll be on TSMC's head. Plus it's not like TSMC doesn't know a thing or two about producing chips.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This is slightly different. The same chip is being produced (it's Apple's design), it's just a different manufacturer. No doubt Apple will be paying per chip and not per wafer, so if anything does fuck up it'll be on TSMC's head. Plus it's not like TSMC doesn't know a thing or two about producing chips.

        TSMC is the world's largest dedicated foundry but pales in comparison to the chipmaking operation at Samsung. They can produce good chips no doubt, but I would put money on higher than normal failure rates (like iPhones going bad) and lower than normal yields (like iPhone 6 or "New iPad Mini" stocking fuck-ups) for at least a generation or two until they have the details nailed down. This kind of thing doesn't get turned on overnight, or even in a year or two.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ByOhTek (1181381)

          Bigger doesn't always mean better. Given my experiences with Samsung, I'd expect lower failure rates, or parity, at worst.

        • by gtall (79522)

          If Apple is smart, they'll keep Samsung as well as buy some of their chips from TSMC. Having dual suppliers is always preferable. I'd be surprised if they ditched Samsung completely.

        • Unless I am mistaken (Which I could very well be).. Samsung has like 2 fabs currently, compared to TSMC's 14.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Having/being a foundry is a lot different than moving $100B of product a year successfully *through* a foundry. Apple can't just pick up the expertise from Samsung and drop it off at TSMC (although I am sure a lot of headhunting/poaching is going on right now).

      • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @12:14PM (#42450751)

        This is slightly different. The same chip is being produced (it's Apple's design), it's just a different manufacturer. No doubt Apple will be paying per chip and not per wafer, so if anything does fuck up it'll be on TSMC's head. Plus it's not like TSMC doesn't know a thing or two about producing chips.

        Remember "bumpgate"?

        I don't really care what TSMC's wafer yields will be; that's Apple's problem. What concerns me is that TSMC may make faulty chips that break down over time, so that iDevices start to malfunction shortly after the 1-year warranty is up.

        TSMC's record is not encouraging. They totally screwed up the transition to 28nm according to both nVidia and Qualcomm. And it is that process on which Apple plans to build.

        Apple needs to focus on building good products, not screwing over their competitors.

        • by neokushan (932374) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @12:25PM (#42450857)

          I don't think this move is just to screw over Samsung (although that's no doubt a happy coincidence for apple). I think someone at Apple has realised that Samsung could decide not to renew the contract and just as easily screw over Apple. As someone else has already pointed out, Apple is still keeping Samsung as a manufacturer in the meantime so even if TSMC does fuck up horribly, Apple won't be in too much trouble.

          There's nothing wrong with ensuring you have more than one supplier for a critical component, especially one that only a handful of companies can produce.

          • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @01:29PM (#42451645)

            I think someone at Apple has realised that Samsung could decide not to renew the contract and just as easily screw over Apple.

            Seems to me that doing so would simply result in Samsung not getting a contract that someone else will happily fulfill. They may be competitors, but why would samsung deprive themselves of a large, lucrative contract simply to spite and inconvenience a competitor? Sounds like bad business to me.

            • Seems to me that doing so would simply result in Samsung not getting a contract that someone else will happily fulfill. They may be competitors, but why would samsung deprive themselves of a large, lucrative contract simply to spite and inconvenience a competitor? Sounds like bad business to me.

              Yes, but it would take time to ramp up the production someplace else. That would cost Apple money. How much money is that worth to Apple? What if Samsung decides to up their prices just under that amount when renegotiating the new contract with Apple? Likewise, how much would Samsung lose if they lost Apple as a customer? With a competitor already in place, Apple could lower their offer by just a little less than that amount. It's about bargaining power and using competition to keep prices low also I bet.

        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by Slime-dogg (120473)
          1. Company A supplies Company B with chips for Company B's products.
          2. Company A decides the money made off supplying parts is not enough and decides to compete with Company B directly by supplying products with very similar designs to Company B.
          3. Company B files suit against Company A for infringement.
          4. Company A insists they're fine, but doesn't realize a good chunk of business still comes from Company B
          5. Company B does the logical thing and divorces all business from Company A.

          Samsung is not a victim, here. This

          • by the_B0fh (208483)

            Why are you trying to talk sense on the Internet? Do I have to go over the rules with you again...?

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Apple demands "Do it for us cheaper or we go elsewhere!".

            Samsung are merely stating that if they aren't going to be generating goodwill from Apple by kowtowing to that demand, why the hell give them preferential prices on their product?

            Samsung may not be able to sell quite as many chips as if they had Apple on board, but they'll make more per chip because Apple isn't gouging their profit margins.

          • by Joce640k (829181) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @01:18PM (#42451463) Homepage

            They could have done it differently, and coexisted with Apple. Now, they reap their reward. I don't really understand why this is so hard for the Android fanbois to understand.

            I don't think you understand Apple's business model. They've got a loooong list of bullshit patents ready to unleash on anybody who dares to compete with them. Samsung is the most successful Android phone maker, that's why they're being picked on. When Samsung defeats the 'rounded corners' lawsuit Apple will just pick another one from their list. So it goes...

            • Samsung is the most successful Android phone maker, that's why they're being picked on.

              The problem with that argument: when Apple sued Samsung, they were an also-ran.

            • by WizADSL (839896)

              They could have done it differently, and coexisted with Apple. Now, they reap their reward. I don't really understand why this is so hard for the Android fanbois to understand.

              I don't think you understand Apple's business model. They've got a loooong list of bullshit patents ready to unleash on anybody who dares to compete with them. Samsung is the most successful Android phone maker, that's why they're being picked on. When Samsung defeats the 'rounded corners' lawsuit Apple will just pick another one from their list. So it goes...

              Well, it seems like a very VERY good thing that there are companies like Google and Samsung willing to put out the cash to fight Apple. Imagine for a

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by oztiks (921504)

            Apple vs Samsung is only an issue in the USA.

            Your own logical conclusion is faded by the fact that Apple didn't invent mobile phones. Apple may of invented the market space but they don't get the right to patent a specific market space otherwise MS would of owned the IT industry years ago and none of this would be a point of contention.

            Company A supplies Company B with chips for Company B's products.
            Company A decides the money made off supplying parts is not enough and decides to compete with Company B directly by supplying products with very similar designs to Company B.

            PSST! America stop giving your IP Asian companies. As far as Apple vs Samsung is to the rest of the world, we are simply passing around the popcorn because most of the argume

          • by mk1004 (2488060) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @02:26PM (#42452393)

            Company A sells a product.
            Company B makes a better product, using parts purchased from company A.
            Company A closely copies company B's product, as companies have done since the beginning of time.
            Company B files suit against Company A for infringement.
            Company B divorces all business from company A, as companies have done since the beginning of time.

            Company A's parts business is just fine, since company B isn't that much of their business.

            Nobody is saying Samsung is a victim of anything, except perhaps bad patents and jury foremen. And no, I use Windows, Linux, Mac OS, and Android. It's not just Android fanbois who think Samsung got a bad deal in the US lawsuit. Apple's move to TSMC isn't a big deal for them, however.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I think you need to read up on what the 'bumpgate''s (god I hate any *gate term) problem is.

          Hint: It's not cause by silicon wafer defect, but the inter-connecters that connects the chip to the external wires.

          Slashdoters, pretending to know what they are talking about since 1999.

        • by CAIMLAS (41445)

          I don't really care what TSMC's wafer yields will be; that's Apple's problem. What concerns me is that TSMC may make faulty chips that break down over time, so that iDevices start to malfunction shortly after the 1-year warranty is up.

          This is different than how things are now and have been since forever, how?

          I'm reminded of the 3+ generations of Macbooks which had the same (ATI?) BGA solder flow/cracking issues which Apple actively denied to even exist, 2+ generations of Macbooks with electrical grounding design problems (you know, lack of isolating material) on their wifi chips, whole chassis grounding problems on 2+ (3?) generations of Powermac resulting in the systems failing very prematurely (but the cases were very cool!), and so on

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's not that easy to change a fab, this is not block of metal which is easy to order. Samsung is at different fab club than TSMC and they have different design rules and they have to start at library level and do a relayout. Also the power consumption can be different between the two processes etc. So this is not in any way easy to do, and quite probably they have to change many lowlevel ip-blocks which also is a risk (memory controller phys, plls, serdes, io, possibly power saving cababilities are differe

      • by poetmatt (793785) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @01:03PM (#42451259) Journal

        TSMC is at the forefront of producing chips, yes. The word that's not there is successfully. It's not entirely their fault, except that it is.

        Examples: http://www.bit-tech.net/news/hardware/2012/04/19/qualcomm-28nm-capacity/1 [bit-tech.net]
        http://www.extremetech.com/computing/130937-tsmc-still-struggling-with-28nm-qualcomm-and-nvidia-threaten-to-jump-ship [extremetech.com]

        • by neokushan (932374)

          I don't think anyone's debating TSMC's track record or competency here. Like I said, I'm sure apple is well aware of all this and will have a contract that's favourable to them.

          • by poetmatt (793785)

            well contracts are all nice to not lose huge profits and all, but if you're having a company manufacture things for you whom can't manufacture reliably, then you might have made a poor business decision.

            I'm sure banging the drum of "but you agreed to X quantity in your contract" when they can't produce X quantity is going to solve the problem of physical stock. (sarcasm)

      • by geekoid (135745)

        " No doubt Apple will be paying per chip and not per wafer,"
        I wouldn't be so sure.

        And when ever their is a change like this there is ALWAYS problems.
        I would like to think TSMC is aware of this and is spending money on QA specifically for the initial test and production runs of this chip.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cheesybagel (670288)

        same chip is being produced (it's Apple's design), it's just a different manufacturer

        Tell that to AMD. They have been trying to outsource CPU manufacturing for years and they kept failing along the way. First AMD wanted to outsource to Chartered which was supposedly using the same manufacturing process (developed jointly by IBM, AMD, Samsung, Chartered) but it turned out they couldn't just trivially port their design over. Then they considered switching to TSMC. Another fail. They also considered switchi

        • by tyrione (134248)
          AMD does outsource its CPU/GPGPU production to GlobalFoundries and TSMC. They just renewed their contracts.
        • by mjwx (966435)

          Tell that to AMD. They have been trying to outsource CPU manufacturing for years and they kept failing along the way. First AMD wanted to outsource to Chartered which was supposedly using the same manufacturing process (developed jointly by IBM, AMD, Samsung, Chartered) but it turned out they couldn't just trivially port their design over. Then they considered switching to TSMC. Another fail. They also considered switching GPU manufacturing from TSMC to GlobalFoundries after purchasing ATI. Yet another fail. The more low level optimizations the chip has the harder it is to port it. You don't just hit a compile button and then the thing magically works. Each manufacturing process has its own little details you have to work around in order for the design to be manufactureable and hit the right performance and power consumption targets.

          But Apple doesn't make their own GPU or CPU, they buy off the shelf CPU's and GPU's and combine them into their own SOC. So it's someone else's CPU design (someone like Qualcom, TI or Samsung who design ARM chips). Intrinsity who Apple bought to get the first A4 SOC was based on a Samsung design using a Samsung core (Hummingbird). So Apple are going to buy chips from other sources, then assemble them into their own SOC. It's completely different to someone like Samsung or Qualcom who design their own CPU's

      • by alvieboy (61292) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:29PM (#42453073) Homepage

        I recall reading that, despite being the "same chip", actual layout is Samsung, so switching to another HW process will require them to at least redo the placement of all the core components (read, transistors and so on), and rewrite some others.

        Note that not only the ARM core needs replacement (I think ARM does not sell the full implementation design, but only the high-level design), but all other components that are inside the SoC are probably Samsung IP or licensed to it (both design and implementation, although some might come from other IP vendors, like Synopsys), so they need to replace those as well.

        This will require a lot of QA effort, and is very risky.

        • by Henriok (6762)
          Actual layout seems to be pure Apple for the A6 and A6X, and Samsung is "just" the fab. P.A. Semi and Intrinsity are companies that specialized in doing just this, laying out an optimizing processors for high performance. Apples people behind these companies did this for designs like StrongARM, DEC Alpha and even Samsung's Hummingbird Cortex-A8 core. So they are experts, and they are experts at using different fabs for their designs. Apple does have a full ARM architecture license, not just certain design
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            The fab is never "just a fab". The fab has their own design rules which are utilized by the layout tools for warnings, etc (things like lambda size, minimum widths, required delta distances, etc - it's been several years since I was laying anything out for fabrication). Besides the rules particular to the fabricator you'll also find rules particular to their process/technology. And beyond the design rule differences there can be other wrinkles between different fabs that affect a chip's layout and/or yie
      • by mjwx (966435)

        This is slightly different. The same chip is being produced (it's Samsung's design), it's just a different manufacturer.

        Fixed that for you. The Ax series chips were not designed by Apple, they were designed by Intrinsity in collaboration with Samsung based on their Hummingbird chip. Intrinsity was acquired by Apple after the design was completed.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_A4#Design [wikipedia.org]

        • by neokushan (932374)

          I notice that you've linked specifically to the 2 year old A4, not the currently-used A6:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_A6 [wikipedia.org]

          The A6 is said to use a 1.3 GHz custom Apple-designed ARMv7 based dual-core CPU, called Swift, rather than a licensed CPU from ARM like in previous designs

          Sure, you can argue that the A6 is based on previous designs that go all the way back to Samsung+Intrinsity, but the point is the CURRENT chips are Apple's design, from an in-house Apple team that's just as happy to work with TSMC

    • by _xeno_ (155264) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @11:53AM (#42450585) Homepage Journal

      They already did the hardware version of the Google Maps fiasco. People are literally returning the MacBook Pros that use the new, non-Samsung screens, in hopes of being able to buy one that uses the older Samsung screens, because the newer screens apparently ghost like crazy.

    • Now we can wait for the hardware repetition of the Google Maps fiasco. Whose head is going to roll this time when the shit hits the fan?

      Apple has already moved production (either partly or completely) away from Samsung for retina displays and RAM.

      Don't forget that Apple designs the A6 and retina display, they simply outsource the production. This makes it extremely easy to change suppliers. The only question would be if TSMC can meet demand.

      • by bloodhawk (813939)
        Yep they moved from Samsung to LG for those retina displays. If anything the result has been even worse than the google maps fiasco, the ghosting and faulty panel problems have skyrocketed for them. Apple have put themselves in a very bad place, they rely on supplying quality hardware but have increasingly alienated the best quality supplier of said hardware (Samsung).
    • by vlm (69642)

      I think the somewhat realistic fear is Samsung releasing a A7-CPU-like android device.
      There seems to be little point in giving your strongest retail competitor your best IP ahead of time for them to study.

      There is a market positioning effect in that apple is kind of saying the A7 will be more than just faster, maybe the design will signify a major change in features. Like if it had holographic 3d display hardware acceleration that would imply the new iphone would have a holographic 3d display so the androi

      • Samsung has been following the ARM roadmap pretty much faithfully so they aren't copying anything in chip design from Apple. Their core design is just an ARM licensed core. Which BTW is as good or better than the A6X core (triple-issue out-of-order). The A7 core remains to be seen.
        • by vlm (69642)

          aren't copying anything in chip design from Apple

          Don't need to. My point was that a suitably intelligent assembly language programmer could make some assumptions about any new instructions or functional units to make a pretty good guess about what new features required that new functional unit... Reimplement it however you want on android... coproc, dedicated peripheral proc, just buy and bolt on a smart peripheral, say screw it do it in software emu, doesn't matter. The point is looking at CPU hardware you might get months, maybe a year's head start o

      • Samsung are not stupid to copy any of the Apple designs, unlike other issues, these manufacture contracts have plenty of Clauses in them. Plus they don't NEED to, they license ARM designs themselves, and develop their own processors (Exynos). They also use Qualcomm chips in some US models.

        3d (Not holographic) has already been done in Android already.

        Why is it you always assume Android is always "catching up" and stating it as a fact? There are cases where Apple came out with stuff before android, and there

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by alen (225700)

      A6 is already a 100% Apple design since they have an architecture license from ARM. one of the few companies that have it.

      as long as their design tools match up with TSMC's production they should be OK

      A5 and earlier chips were modified Samsung designs

    • What are you talking about? They already had a hardware version of the Google Maps fiasco - it cost them money to bail out Sharp. [cnn.com]

      This is a second time of doing the same - which makes things even more idiotic. Apple is determined to cut off their nose to spite their face, apparently.

    • What the article does not say is that it usually takes 12 to 18 months for a processor to go from tapeout to final production. Just because they have a design ready for TSMC to manufacture does not mean the first run will be bug free not to mention that the latency between a wafer going in and coming out is larger than a lot of people realize.
    • Actually having a second source for a crucial part used in your most profitable product does sound like a smart move.
  • Wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @11:45AM (#42450517)

    I'm so excited to hear about every minor thing Apple does. They sure are a groundbreaking company! Imagine, switching to a different supplier. What insight! What killer business acumen they must have!

    I've never in my life heard of such a thing. An electronics company sourcing a different supplier for components!

    HOLY SHIT APPLE IS SO FUCKING AMAZING! PLEASE POST MORE INTERESTING STORIES ABOUT APPLE!

    I heard a rumor that they are stocking their stationary cabinets with scripto pens, and are no longer using Bics. Is this true!?!?!??!?!?!!

  • by PPH (736903) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @11:47AM (#42450539)

    This could sour the cozy relationship between Apple and Samsung.

  • So that's thermonuclear now.
    Better go on a fruitinarian diet now Samsung, it will help to cleanse the radiation & "detox", whatever the fuck that means.

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @12:08PM (#42450725)

    I had been planning to purchase an iPad 4 for a while, but I guess I had better do it soon. I don't really want to be a beta tester for Apple/TSMC. There have been serious problems with TSMC's 28nm process [extremetech.com] and I don't trust them to get it right. And during the past year or so, Apple has shown a disturbing trend of prioritizing screwing over their competitors (Samsung and Google) above providing a good customer experience, as demonstrated by the Apple Maps fiasco and the myriad of problems with LG displays on the Retina MacBook Pro. I'm very concerned that corners will be cut in the rush to TSMC fabrication.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      HI! I found an update [xbitlabs.com] to your 7-month-old news that you might find interesting. From this link:

      “28nm yield and 28nm supply situation have both improved substantially. And so we feel pretty good about the balance of supply and demand at the moment,” said Jen Hsun-Huang, chief executive officer of Nvidia.

      Qualcomm seems to be satisfied with TSMC’s output, but clearly points to progression that could have been made.

      “We are above the high end of our previous revenue and earnings guidanc

      • by JDG1980 (2438906)

        That is interesting information, thanks. It's good to know that TSMC got most of their 28nm issues ironed out by now. I've just been leery of that company ever since the original "bumpgate" which basically killed a whole generation of nVidia GPUs.

  • I thought it was Samsung that pulled this contract.
    • by the_B0fh (208483)

      Because Samsung like tossing away a multi-billion dollar contract...? And have lots of unused capacity...?

  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @12:34PM (#42450967)

    Getting rid of partners like Samsung will hurt them in the long run. The only reason why Samsung became one of the top suppliers of parts for Apple is due to Apple's long history of problems and failures with smaller partners unable to produce significant quantities with the quality expected by Apple. Of course TSMC is not a small company, but Apple dropping Samsung for parts is about pride not intelligent planning or business strategy. Why drop a relationship that works for something less predictable?

    Apple is going to have a very tough year in 2013. They blew their wad last year for product updates and except for minor product revisions will not offer anything interesting until at least the fall if Apple TV is not actually a myth. In the meantime news like this will only scare investors at a time when there had already been a loss in faith with Apple's business strategy.

    I think the problem with Apple is they are still trying to follow in Steve Jobs' footsteps. It's only Steve Jobs that had a hate on for Android, Google, and anything connected to them, so pursuing this prideful vendetta against Samsung is like Steve's dying wish. The problem is that Apple is going to have to eventually start making their own decisions and continuing a strategy to remove Google and Samsung as business partners is not in their best interests.

    • by gtall (79522)

      Errr...or maybe Apple just wants a second supplier and you haven't been in on the memos?

    • Apple is going to have a very tough year in 2013. They blew their wad last year for product updates and except for minor product revisions will not offer anything interesting until at least the fall if Apple TV is not actually a myth. In the meantime news like this will only scare investors at a time when there had already been a loss in faith with Apple's business strategy.

      Ha! Tim Cooked promised us a new Mac Pro. I'll bet there is a good thousand of us waiting for the upgrade!

      Philistine.

    • See thats the problem, Apple got good quality supplies from Samsung, however Samsung is also a competitor. Apple should have used some of the cash they have to actually work on sorting out alternative suppliers earlier. Instead they got involved in their thermonuclear games for far too long, starting lawsuits etc, without actually coming up with alternatives.

      People talk about apples cash pile as a good thing. In business it is not always a good thing to have such a large pile of cash. It is seen by investor

    • by jbolden (176878)

      Apple's products are all on pretty much a 1 year cycle. Every year they "blow their wad" for updates.

      As for investors no investors are worried about Apple's strategy. Mostly they have a problem with investors that are overweight in apple. Second to that are investors who are concerned about Apple being able to maintain margin.

      As for why dropping parts suppliers. Rumor has it Samsung raised the price 20%. Apple pays about $200 per handset for parts, so 20% translates into $40 if there were getting all t

  • by Anonymous Coward

    28 at TSMC is the same 'process' generation as 32 at Samsung. The smaller number represents a 'half-node' where certain components have a smaller 'geometry' on a given process. Essentially, you use optical 'tricks' on the mask to make certain components or interconnects a little bit smaller.

    In reality, the half-node designation is more of a marketing trick to imply a more advanced process. This issue also applies to Intel. Intel claims a full process lead over plants that fabricate similar chips, but there

    • by Solandri (704621)

      It is not a coincidence that Apple made its first tablet so large- at that size you can fit a large-capacity battery in the case. The 4:3 aspect ratio helps here too. 7" tablets with a 16:9 ratio are extremely compromised with respect to case space for the battery. As the SoC gains 4 64-bit cores and a very powerful GPU, battery capacity is going to become a very important factor.

      Dude, we live in 3 dimensions. If your case isn't big enough in width and height, you just make it a little thicker.

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