The world’s semiconductor industry is buzzing with quantum leaps in technologies. We have already seen a 3nm chipset – Apple A17 Pro fabbed by Taiwanese giant TSMC, however, there’s already a fierce battle to top the race for 2nm chipsets that will be used in a host of devices including smartphones, data centers, AI, etc.
For the unversed, migrating to a next-gen fabrication process (or node) such as from 5nm to 4nm offers reduced power consumption, improved area, and higher speeds. However, several factors decide whether any process performs well or not.
The Race to first 2nm fabbed chipset
Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is already dominating the chipset market with a share of 66% compared to Samsung’s 25%. It demonstrated process test results showcasing its ‘N2’ node or 2nm node for which it sent the prototypes to bigwigs such as Nvidia and Apple. On the other hand, Samsung is taking quantum leaps delivering 2nm prototypes to attract customers such as Nvidia and at a reduced price.
For the unversed, Samsung was the first to mass manufacture a 3nm chipset based on its Gate-All-Around (GAA) process. It is also in line to become the first to migrate to a 2nm chipset based on GAA as well.
However, it begs a question as to whether Samsung will be able to execute the migration better than TSMC. Some people are calling in Samsung’s claim on its 2nm process when it hasn’t perfected its 3nm GAA chipset which has a lower yield rate of 60% enough to set the potential customers away.
It is also crucial to note that if Samsung executes even complex chipsets such as Apple’s A17 Pro (on iPhone 15 Pro Max), the yield rate would dip further. Even more so, migrating to a newer node is quite expensive and difficult to execute.
TSMC is set to enter mass production of its 2nm N2 chipsets in 2025. Mobile phones such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 series will get the first hand on a new process before the chip-making giant moves to PCs, high-performance computing chipsets, data center chips, etc, that have higher power and workloads.
Samsung could potentially lead the pack with 2nm GAA chipset
A previous report did highlight how TSMC has slowed down its work on the next-gen chipset. It is also facing difficulties implementing GAA on the 2nm chipset and won’t be able to produce chips in early 2025. However, reports do mention that TSMC will have a capacity of 30,000 wafers made on a 2nm node by Q4 2025.
This could perhaps give Samsung a lead as it could claim the title of the first chipmaker to roll out 2nm-based chips with the production set to commence in 2025. Samsung’s roadmap goes even further with 1.4nm chips set to launch in 2027 although that remains to be seen.
According to Lucy Chen, VP of Isaiah Research, the cost of moving up to the next node is going up while the performance is plateauing. Chipmaker Qualcomm is reportedly turning to the Samsung SF2 process for its next-gen chipsets after moving to TSMC’s 4nm process last year.
Intel’s making its way with 18A chips prototypes
Another chip-making giant Intel is also working on a 2nm processor and has been promoting its “18A” node. The production for 18A began in late 2024 potentially making Intel the first chipmaker to migrate to a newer generation. However, according to TSMC’s chief executive CC Wei, Intel’s 18A appears to have the same power, performance, and density compared to TSMC’s 3nm variant.
Leslie Wu, chief executive at consulting firm RHCC, says that major customers such as AMD are looking to diversify chip production across multiple foundries rather than relying solely on TSMC which is a risky proposition. It is also because moving from one node to another comes with its set of challenges and as the process technology progresses, chips get smaller magnifying potential missteps that could roll the crown off TSMC.
AMD is already actively pursuing other manufacturing capabilities to get greater flexibility. However, TSMC remains superior in terms of trust, efficiency, and costs. The race is ongoing and will continue for a few process nodes until the capping according to Moore’s Law pulls closer.