TSMC’s 20nm process is apparently ahead of schedule. Focus Taiwan reports TSMC will open its first commercial 20nm facility, dubbed Fab 14, on April 20. This is a couple of months ahead of schedule and the new process will allow TSMC to maintain its lead for quite a while.
In contrast, Samsung is still struggling to get its 28nm process off the ground. Samsung’s previous generation Exynos 4 chips were very competitive and most were built using Samsung 32nm process. The process was pretty competitive at the time, as some competitors were stuck at 40nm. Then came along Qualcomm and it blew away the competition with its first generation 28nm Krait chips in mid-2012. This time around Qualcomm is not the only SoC maker with 28nm chips, as Nvidia’s Tegra 4 and Tegra 4i will also be stamped out in TSMC’s 28nm fabs.
Samsung’s first 28nm SoC, the Exynos 5 Octa, already seems to be behind schedule. As a result most Galaxy S4 phones will ship with Qualcomm processors instead. But this time next year things could get much worse for Samsung. The Exynos 5 Octa is a very competitive chip for the time being, but the next crop of A15 and custom core SoCs from the likes of Nvidia, Qualcomm and other players could show up in roughly a year and many could use TSMC’s new 20nm process. Apple is also said to be looking at TSMC’s 20nm offer and it is looking to ditch Samsung wherever possible.
This leaves Samsung in a pretty pickle. Its manufacturing process is already half a generation behind and the industry is moving to more elaborate SoC designs, with power hungry A15 cores and plenty of GPU transistors to cope with full HD displays. Although 28nm chips still have a future, they won’t be of much help in the highly competitive high-end SoC market once the competition transitions to 20nm parts.
Now it appears TSMC is already leaping ahead of its own 20nm schedule, while Samsung’s 28nm process is still experiencing teething problems.