Huawei's upcoming flagship-grade chipset dubbed the Kirin 985 might become the first SoC to be manufactured using Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography (EUV) according to a recent report from GizmoChina.
The Kirin 985 is being developed by Huawei's semiconductor arm HiSilicon but as usual, the SoC will be manufactured by TSMC. The ongoing Kirin 980 was also mass-produced by the same Taiwanese foundry using a 7nm process, and similarly, the Kirin 985 is expected to be based on 7nm+ technology.
But while the upcoming chipset will still be manufactured using the 7nm node as opposed to shrinking the die further to 5nm, the use of EUV should allow for up to 20-percent higher transistor density, which could lead to an increase in power efficiency of around 10-percent.
This further confirms the previous reports indicating that HiSilicon's next high-end chipset will represent an incremental upgrade over the existing Kirin 980 solution, as opposed to a brand new generation of chipsets. This is also indicated by the moniker itself. Usually, the Kirin chipsets jump one decimal up with every new generation much like the Kirin 970 was succeeded by the Kirin 980, but this does not appear to be the case with the upcoming Kirin 985.
Will Huawei be the first to the market?
Last year HiSilicon introduced the industry's first mobile chipset based on 7nm technology, but as far as the consumer market is concerned, Apple was able to beat Huawei to the punch by being the first OEM to release a smartphone equipped with a 7nm-based chipset, namely the iPhone XS and XR series powered by the 7nm-based Apple A12 Bionic chip.
The latest report claims that HiSilicon will be the first to introduce a 7nm+ mobile chipset manufactured by TSMC using lithography in the second half of 2019, but the question remains whether Huawei can also be the first to commercialize the mobile market's first device powered by a EUV-based solution and be the first to bring such a device in the hands of consumers. Only time will tell, especially since TSMC is also the main chipset manufacturer for Apple.
Paving the way for the future
Regardless of whether Huawei will be the first to the market, HiSilicon's solution will reportedly be the first to showcase the benefits of EUV-based mass manufacturing and this should pave the way for the next generation of 5nm-based chipsets expected to make an appearance in 2020 and beyond.
Spec-wise, the Kirin 985 will possibly retain a lot of characteristics from the ongoing Kirin 980, including the core count as well as the inclusion of two neural processing units. But smaller transistors could allow for a bigger, more powerful graphics chip to be paired with the CPU cores, thus becoming a more appealing choice for gaming-oriented smartphones.
Extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) is expected to become a viable solution for mass-production by 2020. TSMC is not the only supplier working on perfecting the technology, with Intel also investing in this area, but previous reports indicate that Intel has delayed the release of its first EUV-based chipsets until 2021, leaving TSMC to lead the race as a result.