New reports out of China now suggest that the battle between Samsung and TSMC may result in 5nm and even 4nm manufacturing processes by 2020. TSMC is claimed to have won the first round because it has already signed more than 40 customers this year for its own chips, including orders from Apple for its iPhone components and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 SoC. That’s before factoring in that TSMC currently holds around 60-percent of the global market share in the industry, as compared to Samsung’s 10-percent. However, both are expected to launch processors built on the 7nm process for 2018 and Samsung plans to capture 25-percent of the market share over the next five years while pushing the process down to 4nm.
Chipping away at the numbers involved, with regard to the manufacturing process chips are built on, generally tends to result in chips that are much more efficient and much more capable. However, for both Samsung and TSMC, that shift in production from the current 11nm process down to 7nm and then to 5nm or 4nm will take some time. TSMC reportedly plans to start things off by modifying its 7nm process and then integrate extreme ultraviolet into it. That’s said to be happening this year, pushing it toward a 5nm manufacturing process goal by 2020. If the information cited by the source is correct, the company will begin trials on those during the first half of 2019. On the other hand, Samsung has plans to use the interceding years in order to gradually move from 7nm to 4nm – pushing from 6nm to 5nm over the course of 2019, before hitting 4nm in 2020.
Taking things substantially further, industry insiders have also allegedly claimed that in 2020, TSMC will begin piecing together a 3nm manufacturing process within its own foundries in order to address Samsung’s 4nm chip manufacturing. That will, according to the source, require a planned investment of around $200 billion. With all of that said, it is important to remember that there will almost certainly be challenges that must be overcome along the way. Those will obviously impact any schedules that have been set by either company. Moreover, there may even be technological boundaries to how small the process can be that simply haven’t been discovered yet and talking about chip technology progression over a 5-year scale is generally a speculative endeavor regardless of the accuracy of the reports. Bearing that in mind, it may be best to take the news with a grain of salt until Samsung or TSMC reveals more about their plans officially.