Insight Bite: Taiwan Takes Lead on Five Nanometre Chips

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) has been shaken by the shifting tides of global trade, losing an estimated 13% of its revenue this month as US sanctions block the firm from taking orders from Huawei.

Nevertheless, the world’s largest semiconductor firm is bouncing back, with business buoyed by fresh demand for 5nm and 7nm chipsets. Reports from Taiwan state that Apple has locked down the entire production capacity of TSMC’s 5nm line for five months to manufacture the A14 chips that will power the next generation of Apple hardware. This includes the new iPad air, which ships this month, and the iPhone 12, due in October.

These devices, along with the iPad and the Apple MacBook Air, will all rely on the A14, which is the first commercial chip to be manufactured on a 5nm process node, marking a new generation of designs that are expected to push the envelope of semiconductor innovation.

Not only does the new design pack 11.8 billion transistors into its small-scale architecture, delivering a 40% performance boost, but it is also less power hungry than previous generation seven nanometre chips. This boosted power and efficiency promises to make demanding tasks like photo editing and data analytics faster, and unlock new applications like gaming and machine learning that broaden the target market by making the new range of devices appeal to gamers and power users.

The only other chipmaker able to mass-produce chips with 5nm technology is Samsung, which is thought to be a step behind TSMC. The South Korean firm is manufacturing Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon 875 chipset using this process, which will power flagship devices from its own range, and other Asian Apple competitors including Oppo.

On the 7nm side, TSMC is continuing to build out capacity to serve its largest client of all, AMD. This plays into broader growth plans to establish foundries across Taiwan, and introduce new leading-edge manufacturing each year that will eventually see the firm produce chips with 3nm process in late 2022.

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