Recently, Samsung has secured a deal with Qualcomm to manufacture its next-generation 5G chipsets. Who is able to make 5nm devices, what will the Snapdragon 875 chipset provide, and why are silicon foundries struggling to achieve nanometre sized features?
Which manufacturers can produce the smallest devices?
As of 2020, there are two major semiconductor manufacturers that produce 5nm devices; Samsung and TSMC. The ability to create the smallest feature sizes on a silicon die allows for the creation of the latest devices such as CPUs, memory, and signal processors. While Intel was often at the forefront of silicon fabrication techniques, their practice of binding architecture technology with fabrication processes has led to Intel being between 2 and 3 years behind in technological development. While 7nm devices are currently being manufactured by both Samsung and TSMC, both companies are already offering 5nm fabrication services, and TSMC have announced average wafer yields of 80% with die sizes of 17.92mm2 (with transistor densities of 173 million per mm2, that equates to dies with approximately 3 billion transistors). However, despite 5nm being available for initial production runs, both companies are already planning 3nm devices and hope to get volume production runs in 2022.
Qualcomm chooses Samsung to produce 5nm devices
Recently, Samsung has secured a deal with Qualcomm to produce its next-generation 5G mobile chipsets using its 5nm process. The deal, which has an approximate value of $844 million, is the first time that Samsung will be producing all new chips for Qualcomm, with the first being the Snapdragon 875. Currently, Samsung produces 8nm devices for Qualcomm, but the securing of the new deal puts Samsung in a unique market position showing that it is able to take TSMC head-on. But this is not the first major deal that Samsung has secured; recently Samsung also secured a deal with Nvidia to produce its RTX 30 GPUs using the 8nm process, and Samsung has been said to be in talks with Intel with producing the next generation of devices while Intel continues to catch up in the fabrication business.
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