In just a few short years, silicon may no longer be optimal for chip production. As the process nodes continue to shrink, it is becoming harder and harder to eek out gains. However, there is still some room for new process nodes be viable. Next year, 7nm will hit the mainstream on a variety of chips. After 7nm, the next major node is 5nm. Ahead of production in 2020, TSMC is revealing more details about the process.
In order to hit 5nm mass production, TSMC is turning to EUV or Extreme Ultraviolet. EUV is long touted as the next step to making smaller nodes possible. Due to difficulties in the use of EUV, TSMC is starting it off with second-generation 7nm first. This will bring some nice density improvements in the area of 17%. As a result of greater EUV usage with 5nm, the improvements are even greater.
TSMC Will Offer Special Voltage Mode With 5nm
Due to EUV enabling a smaller node, 5nm offers a massive 45% improvement in density. This is on par with previous die shrinks that were much bigger in scale. Unfortunately, the rest of the news is not as good. The new process 5nm is only 20% more power efficient and 15% improved performance compared to 7nm. Even with the massive investment, the gains are somewhat minimal. Interestingly, a new Extremely Low Threshold Voltage option will allow chips an extra 25% frequency boost but there are few details.
As previously reported, TSMC is spinning up a new fab to handle 5nm. The new fab 18 will be working out all the kinks in EUV mass production. For now, EUV is still not ready for mass production but it is getting close. Later this year, 7nm should start production, with 7nm+ in 2019 and 5nm 2020. Even with all the troubles with EUV, the industry has never been closer to reaching their goal. However, the future for the next decade and where silicon will go remains unclear. TSMC has plans for 3nm but we’ll have to see if they pan out.