TSMC, the Taiwanese semiconductor who produces, among other things, the AMD CPUs, some of the Qualcomm SoCs and the Apple Axx SoCs, has just unveiled its new roadmap for the fine engraving of chips leaving its plants.
The company says it is ready to launch 3 nm production as early as 2022, a year earlier than TSMC had previously suggested. The 5 nm production will start in the second quarter of 2020.
At the time of the gold rush, those who really built fortunes were not the gold panners, but those who sold shovels and pickaxes. A lesson that seems to be recalled by the insolent health of TSMC, which has become the largest market capitalization in Asia ($262.75 billion).
The foundryman is not necessarily well known to the general public. It is however the one that produces most of the AMD CPUs as well as the SoCs of iPhone and Android smartphones with among other clients: Nvidia, Qualcomm, Apple, Huawei, Alphabet, Alibaba, Xilinx…
There are many reasons for this. The firm is recognized in the sector for its vast choice of engraving sizes and the quality of its processes. For example, TSMC operates its 7nm production lines at full capacity but still offers other customers thicker engraving sizes and better proven and less expensive processes. The firm invests heavily in research and development, so it has acquired process and performance expertise.
It also offers a lot of flexibility to its customers – so that the founder has been able to retain the biggest names in technology. However, the roadmap for engraving fineness that TSMC has just unveiled is quite incredible, and a good omen since it will result in the arrival on the market of ever more efficient chips.
3 nm is now scheduled for the end of 2022, instead of 2023 as initially planned. The first die engraved in 5nm should start leaving the factories in the second quarter of 2020 at the same time as at Samsung Foundry.
In concrete terms, this means that market leaders, in particular Apple, Huawei and Qualcomm, will be able to offer finer engraving chips earlier. The interest in increasing the engraving fineness is twofold. On the one hand, this makes it possible to densify the quantity of transistors and other elements in the same space.
This also reduces the energy consumption of the die. Nevertheless, the closer we get to the nanometer, the more certain undesirable effects appear – forcing the foundryman to invent new methods to build transistors a few atoms wide and functional, with as little energy loss as possible.