TSMC Scheduled to Begin 7 nm Trial Production in The First Half of 2017, 10 nm Tapeouts Began Q1 2016

By | April 21, 2016

According to a recent report sent out to TSMC shareholders, TSMC will begin trial production of their 7 nm process in the first half of 2017. At an investor meeting on April 14, TSMC’s Mark Liu announced that they’re engaging with over 20 customers with 7 nm technology,  that they expect to have 15 tape outs within 2017, and that volume production is planned to begin in the first half of 2018. Interestingly enough, 7 nm is intended for both high performance computing and mobile, while 10 nm is intended primarily for mobile devices. According to Liu, 7 nm is expected to bring a 60-70% improvement in density, 15-20% speed improvement, and 30-40% reduced power consumption over their 10 nm process. 10 nm tape-outs have already begun in the first quarter, and more are expected within the year. 16 NM FinFET Plus(16FF+) Volume production has already begun back in 2015.

It is important to note that these are simply schedules/plans, and are subject to change if complications occur. Intel has begun to encounter noticeable roadblocks due to yield issues when attempting to manufacture CPUs with a smaller lithography process. Skylake and Broadwell, Intel’s 14 nm CPUs, both suffered from supply issues and delays, leading to limited availability in certain countries, and wholesalers/retailers increasing prices due to shortages.  Intel has continued to delay production of 10nmCPUs, creating multiple 14 nms with improved architecture in the meantime. While it is quite possible that TSMC will encounter similar issues with yields when attempting to improve their technology, TSMC has stated that because 95% of the equipment being used for 10 nm production is compatible with 7 nm processes, they expect “very fast yield ramp-up”. Regardless of their expectations, TSMC has not reported that 10 nm volume production has begun(it’s scheduled for Q4 2016), so it’s unclear whether TSMC will encounter complications or yield issues with mass production of 7 nm, because we’ve not yet seen the results of 10 nm production.