HiSilicon's first chipset to be manufactured on the 7nm EUV (Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography) process will be pushed into mass production by TSMC in the second quarter of the year, according to a recent report from Digitimes citing sources from Chinese news outlets.
The chipset will be known as the Kirin 985 and as the moniker suggests, it will represent an incremental upgrade over the existing Kirin 980 chipset as opposed to a brand new generation of SoCs.
The report mentions that 7nm EUV manufacturing is being referred to by TSMC as the N7+ process. The Kirin 985 which will be employed by future Huawei flagships will be TSMC's first N7+ chipset to enter volume production before the end of Q2 2019.
Compared to the Kirin 980 based on TSMC's 7nm FinFET process, EUV-based manufacturing is said to allow for 20-percent higher transistor density, resulting in a 10-percent bump in power efficiency. Likewise, 7nm chipsets manufactured using EUV should be both cheaper and faster to produce.
Apple might once again beat Huawei to the market
Last year Huawei's HiSilicon was the first chipset maker to introduce a 7nm mobile SoC, but Huawei was not the first to the market with this solution and was overtaken by Apple, whose custom-designed chipsets are also manufactured by TSMC.
According to the source, a similar situation might occur this year as well. The report mentions that after HiSilicon's N7+ chipset will enter volume production, TSMC will introduce an enhanced version of the manufacturing process called N7 Pro, which will be used for Apple's A13 chip designed for the 2019 iPhone lineup.
Likewise, Apple's solution will enter mass production in the second quarter of the year, albeit later than HiSilicon's, and this should give Huawei a chance to launch a Kirin 985-based flagship ahead of the iPhones. Time will tell whether or not this will be the case but either way, Apple's N7 Pro-based silicon is likely to outperform the Kirin 985 solution.
The exact Kirin 985 specifications are unknown but as a point of reference, the ongoing Kirin 980 chipset sports two ARM Cortex-A75 cores clocked at up to 2.6GHz, two Corte-A55 cores operating at a frequency of 1.8Ghz, and four additional efficiency cores. The CPU is paired with a Mali-G76 MP10 (10 core) graphics chip and supports LPDDR4X RAM.
TSMC gearing up for 5nm production
While TSMC is readying the 7nm EUV process for mass production, the chipset manufacturer is also reportedly making progress towards achieving even smaller dies. The source claims that TSMC has already begun test production of 5nm-based chipsets at its Fab 18 located in the Southern Taiwan Science Park, and will be able to showcase several 5nm-based chip designs by the end of the year.
Of course, this solution is not yet ready for mass production but according to previous statements, TSMC believes that it should be capable of producing 5nm mobile chipsets in high volumes at the end of 2019 or early next year. Looking even further into the future, the same Fab 18 where 5nm-based manufacturing is being tested should also act as the launch pad for future 3nm chipset manufacturing.