TSMC's 5-nanometer process may start with Apple 'A14' in early 2020

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in General Discussion
Apple could shift the 2020 A-series processor to a 5-nanometer production process, comments from TSMC CFO Lora Ho suggests, with a shift to mass production of the processor architecture node tipped to commence in the first half of 2020, spurred on by 5G smartphone demands.

An example of a wafer used in chip production (via Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd.)
An example of a wafer used in chip production (via Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd.)


Apple's iPhone and other smartphones are expected to be the main driver of growth for TSMC's third quarter alongside Internet of Things devices, CFO Lora Ho advised, in explaining the anticipated increase in demand in the second half of 2019, as revealed by the company on Thursday. The fourth quarter will be even stronger, furthered by higher smartphone chip demand.

The growing demand for 5G smartphones and base station equipment will be a main driver for component demand for the rest of the year, Ho told DigiTimes, with the company using its advanced and mature process nodes for chip production in those fields for the moment.

The demand is sufficiently strong that the company's capital expenditure will outpace a previous estimation of $10 billion to $11 billion, with increased spending planned for both current-generation 7-nanometer process and newer 5-nanometer nodes.

CEO C.C. Wei told investors on Thursday TSMC has become "a little bit more aggressive" on its 5-nanometer production ramp up, with the producer on track to go to volume production of 5-nanometer chips by the first half of 2020. Wei suggested the growth of 5G demand will spur on a need for greater 5-nanometer and 7-nanometer production.

The development of a 5-nanometer process node would offer benefits to TSMC clients that opt for it, including Apple. This can include shrinking the physical space of the die, reducing the cost-per-chip of wafers and the ultimate cost of the processor, improved performance, and lower power consumption.

For Apple, the current-generation A12 Bionic is made using a 7-nanometer process, while the "A13" expected in this fall's iPhone refresh is tipped to stay at that tier. TSMC has already provided its design infrastructure for creating 5-nanometer process chips to clients, and since Apple is a major customer of the chip foundry, it is likely to be among the first to take advantage of the technology when it is ready for production, possibly in the "A14" chip.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    With 5G, etc, the wait list for 2020 iphones will be loooooong. If this November Apple let us get on the waitlist for a 2020 iPhone for a $200 deposit (or full payment up front, even), I bet a million+ people would do it. I'm guessing Apple's guidance to suppliers is small YoY growth 2018-2019 with a surge in 2020.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 18
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,028member
    Every time I see these articles I wonder when will the shrinking (advancements) stop...

    I realize 5-nanometer isn’t really 5-nanometer and is more marketing, but still the shrinking continues.

    We’re getting real close to the physical limits, then things get interesting.

    My “interesting” expectation is 2025, or 2 generations away.
    1STnTENDERBITSwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 18
    zimmiezimmie Posts: 274member
    The Intel 80286 was released in 1982. It has 134k transistors at a 1.5µm feature size. That's 1500nm. If the processes could be directly compared, 1500nm to 5nm means transistors in the new process are 1/300th the linear size, which means 1/90,000 the area. You could just about fit an entire 80286 core into every other transistor of the original 80286.

    They're not directly comparable, of course. Only certain features can be 5nm, while others must be larger. Still, the 80186 (also from 1982) was 55k transistors with a 3µm feature size. That yields 600x linear improvement and 360,000x area improvement. Even considering some features need to be larger than 5nm, you could definitely fit an entire 80186 core into each transistor of an original 80186.
    cornchipviclauyycmuthuk_vanalingamGeorgeBMacmacxpresswatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 18
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,309member
    I remember back when they used to say anything smaller than 9 nanometers would be difficult, if not impossible! The bar for what is impossible keeps being raised.
    cornchiprevenantwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 18
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,556member
    The diameter of a silicon atom is about 110 picometers, or 0.11 nanometers. That means the smallest feature on these chips would be about 50 atoms wide. We truly are approaching atomic computing. Maybe they'll have to switch to a smaller atom like hydrogen!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 18
    Every time I see these articles I wonder when will the shrinking (advancements) stop...

    I realize 5-nanometer isn’t really 5-nanometer and is more marketing, but still the shrinking continues.

    We’re getting real close to the physical limits, then things get interesting.

    My “interesting” expectation is 2025, or 2 generations away.
    This I hate.  The technical achievements are such that they don't need that stupid marketing shenanigans.  
    revenantmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 7 of 18
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,419member
    A13^2 runs circles around Intel(†)
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 18
    FatmanFatman Posts: 306member
    5nm = Insanely incredible.

    If 2020 iphone lineup has OLED, 5nm, Qualcomm 5G along with the usual camera & AI upgrades it will be a knock-out combination, but I can't wait another 14 months!  Apple - PLEASE surprise us all by breaking with tradition and announcing the 2020 iPhones in first half of 2020!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 18
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,860member
    Nice article.   I might point out that if the rumors are correct, A13 will actually be running on an improved 7nm process.    It will be interesting to see what that improved process offers Apple in A13.    A13 could simply be an evolution of A12 or Apple could do significant improvements if the new EUV process allows.  I’m leaning towards a bigger improvement than might be expected out of an improved 7NM node.  Hopefully we will see hardware that leads towards chips more suitable for laptops and desktops.  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 18
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,028member
    Every time I see these articles I wonder when will the shrinking (advancements) stop...

    I realize 5-nanometer isn’t really 5-nanometer and is more marketing, but still the shrinking continues.

    We’re getting real close to the physical limits, then things get interesting.

    My “interesting” expectation is 2025, or 2 generations away.
    This I hate.  The technical achievements are such that they don't need that stupid marketing shenanigans.  
    At least Apple doesn’t do this... they just say x% faster (this year vs last)

    Users don’t care about the process used to make the chips.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 18
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,028member
    wizard69 said:
    Nice article.   I might point out that if the rumors are correct, A13 will actually be running on an improved 7nm process.    It will be interesting to see what that improved process offers Apple in A13.    A13 could simply be an evolution of A12 or Apple could do significant improvements if the new EUV process allows.  I’m leaning towards a bigger improvement than might be expected out of an improved 7NM node.  Hopefully we will see hardware that leads towards chips more suitable for laptops and desktops.  
    Apple A series on laptops and desktops (eventually) is going to be fascinating to watch.  Multitasking isn’t what ARM was designed for, or what iOS was designed for. ARM running MacOS doesn’t work either...

    Apple has been great at getting max performance from one core, which is what iOS (mobile OSs) needs.  So, how do you scale up?  Do you have 2 large fast (GHz) core operating 2 open apps, and a bunch of slower cores dedicated to specific OS functions and accessory applications? How do you allocate resources when you have 10 apps open? Does Adobe just get elevated in priority and take a fast core? What happens when you open an even more resource intensive app?

    My bet is more things get offloaded to the graphics processor, just like the T2 chip offloads storage and authentication.

    Fortunately, Apple can optimize the @#$& out of the OS.  Do they scale up IPadOS or create an entirely new OS for laptops that can run desktop class software... Whatever it is I bet small software developers are going to squeal, with the advantage going to goliaths like Microsoft and Adobe.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 18
    hexclockhexclock Posts: 580member
    MplsP said:
    The diameter of a silicon atom is about 110 picometers, or 0.11 nanometers. That means the smallest feature on these chips would be about 50 atoms wide. We truly are approaching atomic computing. Maybe they'll have to switch to a smaller atom like hydrogen!
    Here is a bit more on molecular computing...

    https://m.phys.org/news/2019-07-molecular-single-molecule.html
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 18
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,955member
    I keep thinking Apple should just skip September.   Pretend it doesn't exist and never dd.
  • Reply 14 of 18
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,352member
    Every time I see these articles I wonder when will the shrinking (advancements) stop...

    I realize 5-nanometer isn’t really 5-nanometer and is more marketing, but still the shrinking continues.

    We’re getting real close to the physical limits, then things get interesting.

    My “interesting” expectation is 2025, or 2 generations away.
    At some point in the not too far off future, the entire concept of thinner is better will go away once a paradigm shift occurs.  At the moment it is all about speed and heat but the progress into the likes of quantum computing or whatever else Cambridge or M.I.T. come up with will make these discussions seem as quaint as discussing the improvement in thermionic valves.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 18
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,352member
    I keep thinking Apple should just skip September.   Pretend it doesn't exist and never dd.

    Frankie Valli would be pissed!
    GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 18
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,162member
    With 5G, etc, the wait list for 2020 iphones will be loooooong. If this November Apple let us get on the waitlist for a 2020 iPhone for a $200 deposit (or full payment up front, even), I bet a million+ people would do it. I'm guessing Apple's guidance to suppliers is small YoY growth 2018-2019 with a surge in 2020.
    There simply aren’t enough techie types to create that kind of demand. Normals don’t need 5G and don’t understand it either.
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 17 of 18
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,162member

    MacPro said:
    Every time I see these articles I wonder when will the shrinking (advancements) stop...

    I realize 5-nanometer isn’t really 5-nanometer and is more marketing, but still the shrinking continues.

    We’re getting real close to the physical limits, then things get interesting.

    My “interesting” expectation is 2025, or 2 generations away.
    At some point in the not too far off future, the entire concept of thinner is better will go away once a paradigm shift occurs.  At the moment it is all about speed and heat but the progress into the likes of quantum computing or whatever else Cambridge or M.I.T. come up with will make these discussions seem as quaint as discussing the improvement in thermionic valves.
    Yeah, just like we’re going back to the moon any day now but the date keeps getting pushed back. Where’s the SLS and Orion crew module? Still in testing, testing, one two three, testing.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 18
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,556member
    lkrupp said:
    With 5G, etc, the wait list for 2020 iphones will be loooooong. If this November Apple let us get on the waitlist for a 2020 iPhone for a $200 deposit (or full payment up front, even), I bet a million+ people would do it. I'm guessing Apple's guidance to suppliers is small YoY growth 2018-2019 with a surge in 2020.
    There simply aren’t enough techie types to create that kind of demand. Normals don’t need 5G and don’t understand it either.
    A lot of techies don’t need it or understand it either.
    watto_cobra
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