Apple chip partner TSMC plans to launch 7nm process in 2018, 5nm in 2020

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Taiwanese semiconductor foundry TSMC is reportedly preparing to roll out its 7-nanometer process node as soon as 2018, with a jump to 5 nanometers currently penciled in for 2020.




In the interim, TSMC expects its 10-nanometer fab to begin production ramp-up by the end of this year. TSMC co-CEO Mark Liu made the process announcements at an investor meeting, according to DigiTimes.

If TSMC is able to meet the aggressive launch schedule, it would put the company at the leading edge of wafer fabrication. Intel -- widely regarded as the gold standard -- is already behind schedule in its own transition to 10-nanometer production, which was initially expected to begin last year.

Many believe that either the 5- or 7-nanometer nodes will be the last commercially viable process shrink, given the limitations of physics. Such small processes magnify quantum effects, requiring substantial changes to transistor architecture and materials.

The industry has only now begun to shift to 14-nanometer production. Apple was among the first companies to take advantage of Samsung's 14-nanometer process with the A9, though some A9 chips are fabricated on TSMC's 16-nanometer line.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    TSMC's 16nm process is superior to the Samsung 14nm LPE process the A9 is using. I think Sammy's LPP variant is a closer match. 

    Really though, the fact that all A9X production is handled by TSMC tells you who Apple prefers, and I suspect the majority of A9 production is handled by TSMC's fabs. 
    cornchip
  • Reply 2 of 21
    irelandireland Posts: 17,751member
    Roughly how fast would you guess a 5nm quad core A-series could/would be compared at an A9?
  • Reply 3 of 21
    kpomkpom Posts: 653member
    So what happens to Moore's Law after 2020? Is it finally "repealed," or are there other materials (e.g. gallium oxide) that can keep semiconductor processes moving forward?
    cornchip
  • Reply 4 of 21
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,435member
    kpom said:
    So what happens to Moore's Law after 2020? Is it finally "repealed," or are there other materials (e.g. gallium oxide) that can keep semiconductor processes moving forward?
    I don't know the answer, but I'll point out that Moore's Law is as much about economics as it is about physics and engineering. 

    That means that even if it is physically possible to find a way to continue the transistor shrink game, that doesn't tell us if Moore's Law will continue. It can only continue if playing that game continues to be profitable. And there are reasons to believe it might not be. The experience of the industry up until now has been that it's always cheaper to build a processor with N transistors on the next node than on the current node. For example, a 1 billion transistor SOC fabbed at 28 nm is cheaper than a the same 1 billion transistor SOC fabbed at 32 nm. 

    There has been a lot of speculation that those days might be over -- that when we go beyond 14 nm, we might find that the processors become more expensive ,not less expensive. If that's true, then the only reasons to continue moving forward are improvements in performance/watt. Of course, that's a good reason. But it might not be a good enough reasons the further we go.... 
    cornchip
  • Reply 5 of 21
    ireland said:
    Roughly how fast would you guess a 5nm quad core A-series could/would be compared at an A9?
    The answer may depend more on how much faster Apple feels is needed. Apple balances CPU/GPU speed against time before the battery needs recharging. So, the first 5nm chip may be put in the Apple Watch and not the iPad Pro.

    I'm still amazed at the current speeds and battery capacity.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 6 of 21
    fracfrac Posts: 480member
    kpom said:
    So what happens to Moore's Law after 2020? Is it finally "repealed," or are there other materials (e.g. gallium oxide) that can keep semiconductor processes moving forward?
    Science will provide the answer. 
    Quote from a public lecture at the Royal Society a couple of years ago on particle physics..."Science is what you do when you don't know what to do or how to do it"
  • Reply 7 of 21
    jason98jason98 Posts: 766member
    The answer may depend more on how much faster Apple feels is needed. Apple balances CPU/GPU speed against time before the battery needs recharging. 
    I don't think there will ever be a "feel" for a GPU of being fast enough. Number of triangles for complex geometries, ray tracing, augmented reality, VR suitable resolution - all will demand so much power from GPU, that it will be literally never enough.
  • Reply 8 of 21
    The semiconductor properties of silicon is very much related to its crystalline structure, or lattice, as it is more commonly called.
    For Si, the lattice constant—the physical dimension of a crystalline cell—is 5.431 Å, which means 0,5431 nm!

    There is no way of getting a smaller node size because a single layer of crystalline silicon would be, at least, this big!

    Of course there are other practical limitations that may (or may not, my microelectronics is a bit rusty and, possibly outdated) limit the shrinking well above this number. Of the top of my head, tunneling comes to mind.

    It is well known (to some audiences) that the position of an electron, for example, can't be exactly defined. There is an intrinsic uncertainty about its position in space. If a physical barrier is thinner than this uncertainty, there is a chance that the electron will simple appear on the other side. This phenomenon is called tunneling, and there is a vast array of semiconductor devices that works based on this very principle.

    So, if you make a transistor small enough, there may be the chance that the electronic current will simple tunnel through the transistor, completely ignoring if it is open or closed! And there goes its functionality!

    We are indeed approaching a hard wall with silicon technology, but other alternatives may be found! The Moore's Law is a human fabrication, which has been true for a long time, but it's not a Natural Law. The important factor in it is its economic impact: Moore's Law has been allowing, for the better part of half a century, for more processing power at the same (or even lower) price, as the the years gone by. That may change...

    Maybe quantum computing, or "spintronics", will come to our rescue in less than 10 years! Or maybe not...
    asdasdwilliamlondoncnocbuiradarthekatpscooter63
  • Reply 9 of 21
    asdasdasdasd Posts: 5,668member
    It's going to come as a shock to the industry when the moores law limit is hit. 
  • Reply 10 of 21
    tmaytmay Posts: 5,423member
    The semiconductor properties of silicon is very much related to its crystalline structure, or lattice, as it is more commonly called.
    For Si, the lattice constant—the physical dimension of a crystalline cell—is 5.431 Å, which means 0,5431 nm!

    There is no way of getting a smaller node size because a single layer of crystalline silicon would be, at least, this big!

    Of course there are other practical limitations that may (or may not, my microelectronics is a bit rusty and, possibly outdated) limit the shrinking well above this number. Of the top of my head, tunneling comes to mind.

    It is well known (to some audiences) that the position of an electron, for example, can't be exactly defined. There is an intrinsic uncertainty about its position in space. If a physical barrier is thinner than this uncertainty, there is a chance that the electron will simple appear on the other side. This phenomenon is called tunneling, and there is a vast array of semiconductor devices that works based on this very principle.

    So, if you make a transistor small enough, there may be the chance that the electronic current will simple tunnel through the transistor, completely ignoring if it is open or closed! And there goes its functionality!

    We are indeed approaching a hard wall with silicon technology, but other alternatives may be found! The Moore's Law is a human fabrication, which has been true for a long time, but it's not a Natural Law. The important factor in it is its economic impact: Moore's Law has been allowing, for the better part of half a century, for more processing power at the same (or even lower) price, as the the years gone by. That may change...

    Maybe quantum computing, or "spintronics", will come to our rescue in less than 10 years! Or maybe not...
    Even assuming that progress will slow for silicon, Apple has a bit of an edge over its competitors in the chip business in that it can shift some OS functionality to silicon, albeit that is an expensive option. The tradeoff would be more die (cost) and increased efficiency and lower latency. Perhaps this would be areas on the die for Siri, AI and physics. I would not be surprised if Apple maintains a relatively large die size for the simple reason that it gives them advantages, and that Apple can afford to.
    radarthekat
  • Reply 11 of 21
    And Intel's troubles continue to multiply. 

    Apple will be forced to go to the A series CPU for the MacBook line. The discrepancy between the performance of the core i7 and the A10X, not to mention the A11X, will simply be too great. 

    As far as GPU performance goes, Intel chips are even further behind. 

    Intel should have granted Apple an x86 license or built the mobile CPU as originally requested by Jobs. It's now too late. The momentum behind the A series and the newly released S series is simply too great to stop it now. 

    The Intel apologists are hoping TSMC's 10 nm process will not able to be introduced until 2017. From the looks of things, TSMC might be able to introduce 10 nm for the iPhone 7 at the end of 2016. And if 10 nm InFO goes into the next version of the iPad pro running the A10X, from a pure performance perspective, not to mention battery life, Intel won't be able to field a competitive CPU of any type for a portable machine. 

    Unlike the heady days of the PowerPC when IBM and Motorola, allowed complacency to set in, Apple won't let it happen this time. The A series CPU will hold the performance crown and the discrepancy with x86 will grow worse with the development of each new generation. 


    cali
  • Reply 12 of 21
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 2,541member
    Take a pause. TSMC and all these tech companies give big marketing speeches and if you look at their track record than you know they are always behind the schedule. When I see 10nm chip in usage, I will believe it. Than will talk about 7nm and 5nm timeline. Such chip shrinkage does give much leverage to Apple for faster, efficient/cooler chips with smaller foot print helping larger battery and more daily usage. I can't wait to see 10nm based A-series iphone. Interestingly, if 10nm production timeline is end of 2016 than it will be used for iphone 7S for Fall 2017 and based on other rumors, might even add flexible/curved OLED.
    edited January 2016 monstrosity
  • Reply 13 of 21
    This is exactly why there has been a substantial focus on non-solid-state electronics for about two decades now. Some benefits (at least theoretical) of so called "molecular electronics":
    • many of these molecules are in the single nm-range (the entire electronic components, not just the leads!)
    • intrinsic transistor/switch functions
    • large quantum confinement
    • atomic-scale barriers
    • bi-stable electronic states (memory w/o need for power)
    • no need for long-range crystalline perfection (molecules self-assemble in smaller, isolated complexes)
    • self-repairing
    • a whole range of "active" molecules already pre-existing, eg light harvesting, chemo-sensors …
    Single molecular-electronic components have been demonstrated since more than 10 years back. However, there are quite a few hurdles left to overcome, and at least another decade of work before entire circuits can be produced. But it definately has the potential of replacing the Si logics we use today.
    flaneur
  • Reply 14 of 21
    While wood1208 said:
    Take a pause. TSMC and all these tech companies give big marketing speeches and if you look at their track record than you know they are always behind the schedule. When I see 10nm chip in usage, I will believe it. Than will talk about 7nm and 5nm timeline. Such chip shrinkage does give much leverage to Apple for faster, efficient/cooler chips with smaller foot print helping larger battery and more daily usage. I can't wait to see 10nm based A-series iphone. Interestingly, if 10nm production timeline is end of 2016 than it will be used for iphone 7S for Fall 2017 announcement..
    I recognize that this is marketing. However, if TSMC makes a promise to Apple and doesn't deliver, Apple will simply transfer the business over to Samsung. 

    It isn't like Intel who is the sole supplier of x86 chips. Apple has options when it comes to TSMC. And losing Apple's business means a serious loss of profit. 

    Hence, I take TSMC's promises as being more truthful than not. And Apple will deploy the 10 nm node at the earliest opportunity. And it may mean 10 nm goes into Apple Watch initially if TSMC ramps up 10 nm at the end of this year with the iPhone 7 and the next version of the iPad pro remaining on 16 nm but with InFO. As you point out, 10 mm likely is deployed in the iPhone 7S. 

    I too am salivating over 10 nm Apple devices. I would really like to see the capabilities of iOS extended or OS X adapted to the A series processor. 

    I know it's coming. Just hard to be patient. 


  • Reply 15 of 21
    levilevi Posts: 344member
    TSMC's 16nm process is superior to the Samsung 14nm LPE process the A9 is using. I think Sammy's LPP variant is a closer match. 

    Really though, the fact that all A9X production is handled by TSMC tells you who Apple prefers, and I suspect the majority of A9 production is handled by TSMC's fabs. 
    TSMC's 16 nm variant may have slight performance advantage over Samsung's 14 nm chip. TSMC is also in the process of rolling a new inFO design, which should give their chips further advantages. I suspect Apple's splitting of chip sources this last time around was more of supply play. There's probably some pricing advantages to having Samsung and TSMC competing against each other, though fitting two different chips into the same phone, and ensuring similar performance probably required some work and cost on Apple's part. TSMC has been a reliable partner, and by most accounts is on the cutting edge. Assuming they stay on top, and can supply Apple with the required number of chips, they have every reason to go with TSMC over Samsung - direct competitor that has no qualms about copying design.
  • Reply 16 of 21
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 2,541member
    While wood1208 said:
    Take a pause. TSMC and all these tech companies give big marketing speeches and if you look at their track record than you know they are always behind the schedule. When I see 10nm chip in usage, I will believe it. Than will talk about 7nm and 5nm timeline. Such chip shrinkage does give much leverage to Apple for faster, efficient/cooler chips with smaller foot print helping larger battery and more daily usage. I can't wait to see 10nm based A-series iphone. Interestingly, if 10nm production timeline is end of 2016 than it will be used for iphone 7S for Fall 2017 announcement..
    I recognize that this is marketing. However, if TSMC makes a promise to Apple and doesn't deliver, Apple will simply transfer the business over to Samsung. 

    It isn't like Intel who is the sole supplier of x86 chips. Apple has options when it comes to TSMC. And losing Apple's business means a serious loss of profit. 

    Hence, I take TSMC's promises as being more truthful than not. And Apple will deploy the 10 nm node at the earliest opportunity. And it may mean 10 nm goes into Apple Watch initially if TSMC ramps up 10 nm at the end of this year with the iPhone 7 and the next version of the iPad pro remaining on 16 nm but with InFO. As you point out, 10 mm likely is deployed in the iPhone 7S. 

    I too am salivating over 10 nm Apple devices. I would really like to see the capabilities of iOS extended or OS X adapted to the A series processor. 

    I know it's coming. Just hard to be patient. 


    I quote your statements if TSMC makes promise to Apple. Well, you and I have not seen that document or Apple publically said such thing.. 2nd, if TSMC promises 10nm production by the end of THIS year than that is 2016 end and not end of last year 2015. If you look back on TSMC's announcements/promises in past than you will be surprised how many were hold true.Here is first few lines from an article from last year -
    TSMC: 10nm is on-track for volume production start in Q4 2016
    July 18th, 2015 at 1:49 am - Author Anton Shilov Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. this week denied any delays of risk or mass production of chips using its 10nm process technology. The company intends to start volume production of semiconductors at 10nm node late next year, which means that its clients will receive their first 10nm chips in the first quarter of 2017

    edited January 2016
  • Reply 17 of 21
    kpom said:
    So what happens to Moore's Law after 2020? Is it finally "repealed," or are there other materials (e.g. gallium oxide) that can keep semiconductor processes moving forward?
    Moore's Law will likely continue on.  It has succeeded so far via "the same thing" for the last 20 years or so- meaning they've succeeded in becoming smaller and faster but essentially still using the same method of applying dielectrics and metals, lithography, photoresist etc.

    Lithography is likely to become the next limiting factor in being able to shrink things down and after that the 'current method' has pretty much reached the max of its physics potential.

    Other methods are in development but who knows which one is next.  Carbon nanotubes or organics could allow Moore's law to continue on, just not using current manufacturing techniques.
  • Reply 18 of 21
    Zarkin said:
    kpom said:
    So what happens to Moore's Law after 2020? Is it finally "repealed," or are there other materials (e.g. gallium oxide) that can keep semiconductor processes moving forward?
    Moore's Law will likely continue on.  It has succeeded so far via "the same thing" for the last 20 years or so- meaning they've succeeded in becoming smaller and faster but essentially still using the same method of applying dielectrics and metals, lithography, photoresist etc.

    Lithography is likely to become the next limiting factor in being able to shrink things down and after that the 'current method' has pretty much reached the max of its physics potential.

    Other methods are in development but who knows which one is next.  Carbon nanotubes or organics could allow Moore's law to continue on, just not using current manufacturing techniques.
    To sort out the terminology (as already stated earlier):
    "Carbon nanotubes" and "organics" are in fact molecules. Their intrinsic electronic properties are intended to be used to create logic functions. That's why it's called molecular electronics. On the contrary, the "current methods" you are referring to are solid-state based.
    edited January 2016
  • Reply 19 of 21
    ksecksec Posts: 1,567member
    blastdoor said:
    kpom said:
    So what happens to Moore's Law after 2020? Is it finally "repealed," or are there other materials (e.g. gallium oxide) that can keep semiconductor processes moving forward?
    I don't know the answer, but I'll point out that Moore's Law is as much about economics as it is about physics and engineering. 


    This Exactly, and to be precise Moore's Law is ALL about economics, the performance that comes with it was more of a bonus from that point of view.

    And Moore's Law is dead in that sense, at least not functioning at its original prediction. 28nm was the last node that brings cheaper wafers. Everything below is going up, luckily TSMC is working on 16nm FFC, which will some day be cheaper then 28nm few years down the road.

    On to 10nm, TSMC 10nm is more like a half node. So no, on a technical level it doesn't complete with Intel 10nm, not to mention Intel's 10nm is much more feature rich and coming in and SHIP in early 2017.  Although it does make very good headlines for tech site alike.  

    It is the 7nm that is interesting because it will be, truly for the first time ever TSMC will be ahead of Intel in terms of Fab Tech. ( Not in terms of Node numbers, but in actual features set and technical performance. )
  • Reply 20 of 21
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    ksec said:
    blastdoor said:
    I don't know the answer, but I'll point out that Moore's Law is as much about economics as it is about physics and engineering. 


    This Exactly, and to be precise Moore's Law is ALL about economics, the performance that comes with it was more of a bonus from that point of view.

    And Moore's Law is dead in that sense, at least not functioning at its original prediction. 28nm was the last node that brings cheaper wafers. Everything below is going up, luckily TSMC is working on 16nm FFC, which will some day be cheaper then 28nm few years down the road.

    On to 10nm, TSMC 10nm is more like a half node. So no, on a technical level it doesn't complete with Intel 10nm, not to mention Intel's 10nm is much more feature rich and coming in and SHIP in early 2017.  Although it does make very good headlines for tech site alike.  

    It is the 7nm that is interesting because it will be, truly for the first time ever TSMC will be ahead of Intel in terms of Fab Tech. ( Not in terms of Node numbers, but in actual features set and technical performance. )
    Intel's advance is a bit useless if their chips don't outperform/cheaper and ARM chip in the same size device.
    That's all people really care; pissing contests are left for engineers.

    Intel has refused to fab for someone else because it's a low profit proposition; they may have to eventually with TSMC pressing them.

    I wouldn't be surprised if within 2-3 years Apple switches out the their low end laptop for their own A chips. That will hurt Intel.

    Having the best X86 chip doesn't matter if 95% of people are not using it directly (still being used in servers and niche applications).
    That's where Intel will be if they don't wise up; maybe it's already to late.
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