Samsung and TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) have provided updates to their 7nm chip technologies at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) held in San Francisco, California. Both companies are busy designing and working towards producing smaller and smaller chips; current memory and processor chips are being manufactured at the 14nm to 16nm process size. The next move down will be to adopt 10nm chips, which is expected to be happening inside twelve months. To this end, TSMC is currently manufacturing 10nm chipsets for use in the next Apple iPhone 8, due out later in the year, and the 10nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (shown above) is being prepared for a number of flagship Android devices.
For the ISSCC, both Samsung and TSMC demonstrated their development using a 7nm SRAM chip. TSMC detailed a test chip that “could pass for a commercial part,” and also explained that its manufacturing process was already producing “healthy” yields. During its presentation, Samsung demonstrated using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography technology, but rather than to manufacture a chip, the process is instead being used to repair one. Samsung using EUV technology for a chip repair has led some in the industry to speculate that Samsung is years behind TSMC in developing its next generation 7nm chips. Samsung does not appear to be pushing into 7nm chip technology as rapidly as TSMC, but EUV technology is seen as being technologically superior and Samsung has already stated that it will be using EUV at some stages of its 7nm chip production runs. The industry believes that Samsung can decide to use more EUV lithography technology during its production and this will allow the South Korean company to market the chips as having a more advanced manufacturing process.
Nevertheless, industry analysts believe both Samsung and TSMC are making “admiral advances.” Each year, chipset designers and manufacturers are refining and improving the technology and one way that this is happening is by reducing the process size, and hence the overall size, of the chipset. The smaller the process size, the lower the voltage required to drive the chip, which means the lower the heat produced and power consumed by the chip. As the heat production and power consumption is proportional to the square of the voltage, a relatively small reduction in size could lead to potentially significant benefits elsewhere. Less heat and power is especially important to the mobile industry.