Top chip supplier TSMC is already readying the launch of its 4nm process, dubbed "N4," gearing up for production in the not-too-distant future. News surrounding the new process stems from an announcement made by TSMC CEO Liu Deyin during a shareholders meeting. The news as reported by China's MyDrivers places the expected mass-production date out in 2023.
As with previous generations of the technology, Mr. Liu Deyin indicates that the process will be a "further enhanced" variation on the N5P process. That's the company's most advanced 5nm process.
The 4nm timeline is a bit surprising, given current expectations from TSMC
Now, the news that TSMC may push 4nm chip production back as far as 2023 shouldn't come as too big a shock. The company, as of the middle of May, TSCM hadn't been expecting to push its 5nm chips and modems until this month. Its competition, meanwhile, isn't too far behind. For example, Samsung has reportedly been helping Google develop its own 5nm chipset for Pixel and Chromebook devices.
That competitor could potentially overcome TSMC in terms of the chip generation beyond 4nm too. TSMC announced that it would be pulling back its efforts on 3nm chipsets as recently as June 1.
Specifically, the company is being forced to draw back on the production trials by more than a full quarter. The decision to delay the chips comes amid the ongoing global health crisis and subsequent disruptions to the supply chain. But also derives from how difficult it has become to manage logistics of personnel movement and more. The tests will now be finalized before the end of the year.
Perhaps more surprisingly, the company is expected to push 3nm chipsets back as far as 2021. Taken at face value, the date would put the 4nm production behind 3nm production. And that may actually be the case if it opts to separate production processes in the US from its production in its home region. Conversely, the tech company could, in fact, plan to only start larger trials by the proposed 2021 date
US sanctions could slow things further for TSMC
In the interim, TSMC is facing other challenges as well, providing more context for the extension of dates it has been proposing. And those could ultimately lead to further delays, depending on their severity and how well TSMC manages them.
One such challenge is presented by the fact that TSMC is expecting to lose its second-biggest customer soon. That's because a rule forbidding the company from working with Huawei will go into effect, forcing it to stop supplying chips in September. The chip manufacturer has expressed that it isn't too concerned about the loss. It can make up the lost revenue with new customers now that it is building a fabrication facility in the US. That's its $12 billion facility in Arizona.
Additionally, TSMC is expecting to garner provisional support from the US government at the state and federal level for its efforts. The full extent of the proposed incentives has not been reported. The combined offsetting factors may be enough to bolster its position in the market further.