In the semiconductor, or chip, industry, small is good when it comes to application processors. The smaller the processor, the lower the power consumption and therefore the lower the temperatures or waste heat. This is because a smaller die size requires less voltage in order to drive the electrons around the processor. Power consumption is proportional to the square of the voltage applied, which means that a relatively small reduction in voltage may have a disproportionately large effect on the power consumption (and heat output) of the processor in question. A side effect of the reduced power consumption and chip footprint is that the unit may be faster, as it takes less time for the electrons to be moved about the processor plus the processor can be run at a higher clock speed as the waste heat produced is less.
Until the end of 2014, many current generation processors were built on a 28nm die size. There were some exceptions, such as Intel’s Atom built on a 22nm die size. Towards the end of 2014, Samsung and Apple introduced 20nm processors, then earlier this year the Samsung Galaxy S6’s introduced the Exynos 7420 processor built on a 14nm die process. The rest of the mobile System-on-Chip industry has seemingly been scrabbling to catch up with Samsung, although the reality is that other manufacturers have had smaller die sizes in the pipeline for some time – but there is no doubting that Samsung’s chipmaking divisions have quite the head start.
Our processor news today is that the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, or TSMC, is set to move its 16nm FinFET production process, also known as “16FF+,” to commercial production later this year. TSMC is planning to introduce a more compact of the 16FF+ manufacturing process early in 2016 and by the end of 2016, TSMC’s production capacity will be triple what it will be at the end of 2015. TSMC have also announced their plans to introduce a compact, lower power version of the 16FF+ process called 16FFC, which will enter volume production in the second half of 2016. Whereas 16FF+ processors will be targeted at customers requiring high performance chipsets, 16FFC chips will be designed for “price sensitive” mobile devices, wearable and Internet of Things devices where power consumption is very important. At the same time, TSMC is also planning to move to a smaller die size with 10nm FinFET manufacturing capacity. These new smaller chips will be in “risk production” later this year but will be available in commercial quantities at the end of 2016.