Global semiconductor production champion TSMC unveiled part of its roadmap in advancing processor engraving technologies during the opening of its annual conference. A battle plan that not only talks about the different versions of engraving in 7 nm and 5 nm, but also 3 nm !
Far from being abstract announcements, TSMC’s breakthroughs benefit the entire industry:Apple From Qualcomm to AMD, everyone in the semiconductor world now vibrates to the beat of Taiwanese factories. Judge for yourself: the switch to a fineness of engraving in 7 nm accounts for 70% of the improvements made by the latest generation of chips AMD Ryzen 4000 Mobile !
The 3nm from 2022
Let’s start with the most impressive announcement: 3nm engraving technology is expected to be available in high volumes from the second half of 2022 – “at risk” production will begin in 2021. By comparison, Intel is expected to – at best – reach the 7 nm at the end of 2022 or even the beginning of 2023.
While it is obvious that the fineness of engraving, the measurement of which is not standardized in the industry, is now only one of the bricks of production technologies (to this is added the 3D stacking, the different process, etc.) even taking into account Intel’s mastery of these areas, the difference in “official” finesse with TSMC will then be even greater than at present. This could allow Intel’s competitors like AMD to maintain their lead in some areas.
Engravings in several flavors
AMD is currently enjoying 7nm on almost all of its products, and Apple and other Qualcomms are expected to benefit from 5nm chips starting this year. These two processes called “Nodes” exist in the TSMC catalog in several versions, depending on the production lines. Thus the “normal” 7 nm is called N7, its improved version “N7P”, the more advanced version “N7 +”, etc.
TSMC provided information about the differences in performance – density of transistors, power consumption, etc. – which make it possible to classify the processes. A classification that undoubtedly follows an increasing price curve: the more efficient the process, the more expensive the chips are to manufacture – do not search, it is impossible to have the slightest idea of the engraving price, this kind of information industrial being “top secret”.
More density, more performance, less energy consumed
But this ranking allows you to get an idea of the state of the art and compare manufacturing methods. Thus, in the 7 nm spectrum, compared to the basic “N7” mode, the most advanced mode (N7 +) allows the density of transistors to be increased by + 17%, and optionally, to reduce the energy consumption by – 15% or improve performance by + 10%.
The passage of the same N7 at 5 nm (N5) is even more important with a quasi-doubling of the number of transistors with equal area (x1.8), a reduction in consumption to -30% or an increase in performance of +15 %.
As for the switch to N3 (3 nm therefore) against this N5, the improvements are even more impressive with a multiplication by x1.7 of the number of transistors, and the amount of energy consumed even more reduced (from -25 to -30% ) and a gain in perfs again of + 10% to + 15%.
If the processor is only one of the components – screens are often ahead in terms of energy consumption – all these improvements promise even more energy-efficient devices … as long as the race for pure power slows down a bit!
Either way, TSMC’s aggressive roadmap should continue to drive the entire industry, not just its customers, who leverage its manufacturing lines to develop ever better chips. But also the direct competitors (Samsung, UMC) and indirect (Intel, which produces only for itself) who are keen to keep pace. And they will have to fuel: TSMC has laid down the plans for its future Hsinchu factory which should burn the chips in … 2 nm.