Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturer TSMC has published its Q1 2019 financial results, taking the opportunity to talk about its upcoming 5nm fabrication plans.
The very first 7nm graphics card arrived earlier this year in the form of the Radeon VII, while both AMD’s 7nm Zen 2-powered Ryzen 3000 series and Navi GPUs are due to launch in Q3 2019. TSMC is already forging well ahead with its 6nm and 5nm plans, leaving the likes of Intel floundering on its well-publicized 10nm fabrication issues.
"N5 [5nm] technology development is well on track," TSMC chairman and CEO C.C. Wei said on TSMC’s Q1 earnings call. “With the best density performance, power, and the best transistor technology, we expect most of our customers who are using 7nm today will adopt 5nm.”
In terms of the here and now, 7nm is still the big focus. A large number of TSMC’s clients are taping out 7nm products across a wide range of industries. Volume production is already in full flow for 7nm+, which utilises EUV (Extreme Ultra Violet lithography). 7nm+ yields have now matched 7nm, and TSMC believes around 25% of its total revenue will come from 7nm wafers.
Both the 6nm and 5nm fabrication nodes are deep into development though, with 5nm offering 1.8x the transistor density of 7nm. “The number N6 and N5 looks pretty close. but actually they still have a big gap,” said Wei, demonstrating his knowledge of the numeric system. “N5 compared with N7, actually, the logic density increases by 80%. N6 compared with N7 is only 18%. So you can see there’s a big difference in that logic density and transistor performance also. And so, as a result, the total power consumption in the chip is lower in the N5. There’s a lot of benefit if you move into N5.”
If all that’s got your head in a whirl, it just means hardware manufacturers can use smaller transistors in order to cram in more on the same size chip. TSMC believes hardware manufactures will be using 5nm for the long haul. Clients need time to catch up with the advances in fabrication, and N5 should offer a suitable impressive performance and power efficiency advantage over 7nm. TSMC is currently on target for the volume production of 5nm wafers in the first half of 2020.