In chipsets, small is beautiful, in all but a very small number of cases. Processors built on a smaller scale use less power and produce less heat than those built at a larger scale. The primary reason for this is because the smaller the distance between the tiny components built into a chip, the less the voltage that must be applied in order to drive the circuits. Power consumption (and heat production) is proportional to the square of the voltage applied, which means a relatively small reduction in process size, therefore in voltage applied, can have a correspondingly large difference in power consumption. Until the release of the Samsung Galaxy S6, mobile processors had been built at the 28nm size for the last few years, with a few notable exceptions – Intel’s Atom processor has been built at the 22nm size and both Apple and Samsung have shrunk their System-on-Chips down to the 20nm point. The Galaxy S6 changed this thanks to the introduction of the Exynos 7420 System-on-Chip, constructed at the 14nm process point and offering noticeably lower power consumption and heat output compared to competitor System-on-Chips.
Of course, chipmakers and smartphone manufacturers are constantly seeking to improve their products, as these improvements should either drive sales or at least maintain them. To this end, Samsung have announced their roadmap and plans for shrinking the process used for their own in-house System-on-Chips. Samsung’s immediate goal is to reduce the process from 14nm down to 10nm. Samsung’s plans include building chips for fabless chip designers: essentially, Samsung wish to consolidate their position as one of the best semiconductor manufacturers in the world. It is believed that Samsung are already set up to build Apple and Qualcomm processors at the 14nm process size and going forwards, Samsung will be keen to extend its manufacturing business into smaller and smaller sizes. Of course, Samsung is not alone in the processor manufacturing industry and are in hot competition with a number of competitors, including TSMC, or the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. The rumor is that Samsung have adjusted their schedule so that customers are not tempted to move their business to TSMC, which are also pushing hard to manufacture smaller processors. The source reports that Samsung published the 10nm roadmap almost a week ago on the 21 July as well as continuing to roll out System-on-Chips built on the 14nm size.
It is good news for the smartphone industry to see such stiff competition between the various semiconductor manufacturers, because reducing power consumption (and heat output) of smartphone components is an important step in making and keeping our devices more mobile. The introduction of the Exynos 7420 earlier in the year stole a march over the competition and it’s great to see Samsung working hard to keep their lead.