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Apple’s main chip supplier on track to make next-generation 5nm silicon as soon as next year

Apple’s main chip supplier on track to make next-generation 5nm silicon as soon as next year
Semiconductor manufacturers might not be following Moore’s law to a T, but that doesn’t mean they’re not making good progress. Last year, we saw the first mobile chips using the 7nm architecture: Apple’s A12 and HiSilicon’s Kirin 980, followed by the Snapdragon 855. It was expected that processors will remain on that level for a while, considering that producing smaller transistors gets exponentially harder with the reduction of their size.

Turns out, we might not have to wait as long as we thought. News coming from Taiwan, brought to us by DigiTimes, raises hopes that the next jump might be just a year away.
TSMC, one of the world’s biggest semiconductor manufacturers and the main chip supplier for Apple’s own A12 and upcoming A13 SoC, has announced that its design infrastructure for 5nm chips is now available for potential customers to download and start working with.

This means that TSMC clients, such as Apple, now have the tools to design their next-generation chips. This will likely allow TSMC to secure orders from Apple for at least a couple of years. But what would the new architecture mean for performance?

Exact gains are hard to predict, but what TSMC says is that it will be able to fit 1.8 times more transistors within the same surface and expects about 15% speed gain in ARM’s Cortex-A72 Cores. Power efficiency will also be higher than that of 7nm chips, which should lead to better battery life.

TSMC is also proud of the progress it's making in terms of yield, which was one of the main problems with the mass production of 5nm chips. Using EUV lithography, which replaced FinFET as the size decreased, the company is able to achieve yields comparable to those of its larger nodes when they were at the same stage of development. This means, of course, there’s still work to be done before the chips can enter mass production, but the important takeaway is that the technology is advancing on schedule.

The potential arrival of the 5nm chips in 2020 is actually good news for Apple. This year we expect to see the major design changes coming with the iPhone 11, leaving the performance improvements to be the major selling point of the 2020 iPhone 11S. In other words, business as usual.

Of course, other manufacturers will also be able to benefit from TSMC’s developments, but only if they manage to secure any of its production capacity, for which Apple is paying top dollar, we’re sure.

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