Globalfoundries is a company that deals with the fabrication of chips. Companies like Qualcomm or Texas Instruments design chips, but then they have to send those designs to someone like Globalfoundries to make the physical products that handset makers then put into their devices. The chips in today’s flagship phones are made with transistors that are either 28 nanometers (Snapdragon S4) or 32 nanometers (Samsung Exynos 4 Quad) in size. Making transistors smaller has numerous advantages. First, you can get more chips out of a silicon wafer, which means the prices of chips goes down. Second, smaller chips use less electricity, so they run cooler and they also give you more battery life. Third, because smaller chips use less power and make less heat, companies can make them go even faster.
Now that you have that background information, let’s get to the actual news: Globalfoundries is announcing that they’re ready to make chips using 14 nanometer transistors. Chips using these transistors will supposedly “tape-out” next year. To put it another way, chip designers can start producing sample 14 nanometer chips as early as 2013. And at some point in late 2014 or early 2015, there’s a high probability that you’re going to be able to buy a phone with one of these new 14 nm chips. They should deliver 60% more battery life than an equivalent 20 nanometer chip. What’s funny is that 20 nanometer chips aren’t even out yet, so we’re talking about about something that’s really futuristic here.
Can companies keep on making smaller and smaller transistors? Some say yes, others say no. Making chips with smaller transistors means building new chip fabrication plants, and those aren’t exactly cheap. Last year Intel committed to spending $5 billion to make a fab in Arizona.
We hope we explained all this clearly. We’re chip geeks, and we hope to turn you into one too!