TSMC, the world’s biggest semiconductor manufacturer, has revealed its chip manufacturing roadmap for the next four years. Their recent success can be credited to their capacity to provide a new manufacturing technology with power, performance, and area each year, as well as a brand-new node every 18 to 24 months.
We are now in an era where it is becoming increasingly challenging to maintain the pace of innovation while also producing profitable yields. To address this, the chipmaker has chosen to continue supplying half-node, improved, and specialised variants of its fabrication procedures. According to their plan, TSMC will continue to offer N3 (3nm class) chips, N5 (5nm class) chips, and older chips for the foreseeable future. In addition, the chipmaker will spend on delivering several variants of the N3, as well as the N5, N5P, N4P, and N4X. This class will be supported by the manufacturer until 2025.
The N3E Class
So far, TSMC has verified the existence of the N3E and N3X. N3E has been in research and testing for over a year, and the chipmaker is ready to put it into mass production. The N3E is based on the N3 and provides a 10 to15 percent performance gain over the current-generation N3 processors. TSMC head C. C. Wei stated in a recent conference call, “Our N3E result is quite good, the progress is ahead of our schedule. And pull-in, yes, we are considering that. So far, I still did not have very solid data to share with you that how many months we can pull in. But yes, it is in our plan”.
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This is a novel approach, and chip designers are working on their own schedules for their designs. To achieve high output, those designs must be validated months before mass manufacturing. Given the current scenario, we are sceptical of 3NE-based chips entering mass manufacturing anytime soon.
N2: The Next Big Thing
N2 is TSMC’s next groundbreaking technology for mass-market efficient and powerful chips. Apple is the first customer for this, followed by Intel, Qualcomm, and others. The chipmaker initially introduced the notion of N2 in 2020 and has been working behind the scenes to build a fab ever since. The first fab is expected to be operational by 2024, which will be followed by rigorous testing. N2-based semiconductors are expected to join the market by 2026.
In the same conference call, the TSMC head said, “Our progress so far today for the N2 is on track”. He further added, “All I want to say is, yes, at the end of 2024, [N2] will enter the risk production. 2025, it will be in production, probably close to the second half of the – or the end of 2025. That is our schedule”.