TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) has announced it will begin 7nm risk production this April. The 7nm fabrication process has been under development at TSMC since early 2014, with TSMC employing a number of innovative technologies such as extreme ultraviolet (EUV) in order to achieve the new process technology.
What’s actually surprising is that, despite talk of setbacks, 7nm production is still bang on target to meet TSMC’s original estimates from way back back in 2014. The aim always was to enter risk production in 2017 before mass manufacturing of consumer chips around 12 months later.
While the likes of AMD and Nvidia busy themselves over 14nm and 16nm processes, the real performance leap is going to be seen when manufacturing plants can shrink down to 7nm. This year we’re likely to see 10nm chips used in smartphones, and this will prove a huge boon for power efficiency, but performance gains will be held back for 7nm.
Risk production of 7nm chips will kick off next month, including a Cortex Q72 mobile processor clocked in excess of 4.0 GHz. In total 20 products are due to be taped out this year alone.
The big change between the 7nm process and others before it is the technologies used. TSMC ran into hurdles shrinking the size node down from 10nm, essentially hitting the limit of the traditional lithographic process.
Shrinking the die down allows semiconductor manufacturers to squeeze on more transistors in the same amount of space. This allows them to create chips with increased clock rates, lower power consumption, and a greater price to performance ratio. TSMC has been forced to adopt the new EUV tech in order to achieve this; a risky and expensive process, but one it believes will be ready for full scale production next year.
In addition to all this, TSMC also anticipates mass production of 10nm wafers ordered by Apple this year, as well as 5nm volume production by 2020.