Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the leading mobile chip foundry, making the majority of world’s mobile chips, including Nvidia’s Tegra chips and Apple’s A6 chip, too. They’ve now started the phase 6 of its Fab 14, which is the fab that will be the first in the world to make 20nm chips, and also the first to make 16nm FinFET chips in volume, as early as 2014.
ARM has recently announced the Cortex A50 series of chips based on the 64 bit ARMv8 architecture, which includes the high-performance Cortex A57 chip (the successor of Cortex A15) and the low-power Cortex A53 (successor of Cortex A7). These chips will ship in devices at 20nm, so TSMC will play an important role here, and we’ll probably be able to see 20nm 64 bit ARMv8 chips in the first half of 2014.
ARM has also said that we’ll see the A50 series on 14nm and 16nm FinFET processes, it looks like that may be possible before their own successors come into the market. TSMC promises to mass-produce 16nm FinFET chips in 2014, although we probably won’t see devices with them until early 2015.
GlobalFoundries has also made a similar promise, that they will mass-produce 14nm FinFET chips in 2014, and they’ll be able to catch-up with Intel’s own 14nm process. This is great news for the ARM ecosystem, as it means Intel will have no advantage in process technology over ARM anymore, and this will happen just before they intend to release their own 14nm 64 bit chip, which seems to have been pushed to 2015, a year later after ARM’s first 64 bit chip.
Intel’s 14nm process also seems to have been delayed, which makes it even more likely for chip foundries like TSMC and Global Foundries to catch-up with Intel in process technology. That means Intel will have to compete toe-on-toe with ARM and other ARM chip designers like Qualcomm, and even Apple who’s now designing its own ARM chips.
This means it will continue to be tough for Intel to enter the mobile market, as if Intel’s chips are merely “competitive” with ARM chips, then there’s no reason for anyone to switch from the tried and true ARM chips, and use Intel-based devices instead that will have to emulate some of the apps, and most 3D games. It also remains to be seen if Intel will be competitive in the graphics department in the mobile world, as so far it hasn’t been, at all.