Samsung’s plan to beat TSMC to 3-nanometer chips suffers setback

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Apple chipmaker racing ahead with its next next-gen nanometer process
Apple's current chips are made with the 7-nanometer process.
Screenshot: Apple

The A-series chip in this year’s iPhone 12 is going to include one of the world’s first 5-nanometer chips, created by Apple partner TSMC.

But chipmakers are already looking beyond 5-nanometers when it comes to developing the ultra powerful chips of tomorrow. Rivals TSMC and Samsung, both of whom have previously made A-series chips for Apple, are busy exploring 3-nanometer production processes.

However, according to a report published Monday, Samsung just hit delays with their attempts at creating the next-next-gen chip process.

Samsung vs. TSMC: Apple chipmakers compete for 3nm

Digitimes says that Samsung had been aiming to beat TSMC to the first 3-nanometer chip. In recent years, TSMC has been the common manufacturer for Apple’s A-series chips. You’d have to go back to the 2015 A9 chip to find TSMC and Samsung sharing this role. The 2013-era A7 chip found in the iPhone 5s was the last time Samsung took the lead in this area.

Seemingly, Samsung was banking on beating TSMC to the next downward size shift in chip manufacturing. However, today’s report says that Samsung Foundry had aimed to have volume production of its 3nm process technology up and running “as early” as 2021. Now it will “probably” have to reschedule this to 2022. That’s as a result of the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the supply chain. Specifically, it is causing delayed deliveries of critical production equipment, claim industry sources.

TSMC is also racing to get 3nm chips in the works. According to JK Wang, TSMC’s senior vice president of fab operations, TSMC is on track to build chips with its 3nm process in 2022. In other words, from the sound of things, it could be neck-and-neck to see which company has the technical advantage once Apple decides on the chips for its 2022-era iPhone.

By comparison, the chips used in current generation iPhones are produced with the 7nm process.