Chances are that the smartphone you have in your pocket right now is powered by a chip that was made by the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, TSMC for short. Qualcomm uses TSMC, NVIDIA uses TSMC, and roughly 150 other companies also depend on TSMC for their chips. According to Focus Taiwan, TSMC just broke ground on a new factory, or fab in industry parlance, that will pump out 20 nanometer chips. When will this factory be done? That wasn’t mentioned, but we’re hearing rumors that we should start seeing 20 nanometer chips in smartphones either by the end of 2013 or very early 2014. How much money is TSMC pouring into this fab? Again, we don’t have an exact number, but we do know that the company is going to be spending roughly $17.2 billion over the next five years to expand their operations.
Why should you be excited about 20 nanometer chips? Because chips made using smaller transistors use less power, which translates to increased battery life. That and some of the next generation ARM processors, such as the Cortex A15 and Cortex A57, are a lot larger than what’s on today’s market, so companies are going to want to use smaller transistors in order to save money.
What about Intel and Samsung? Intel’s fabs make 22 nanometer chips today, but, and this is a big but, Intel’s fabs only make Intel chips. Samsung on the other hand, they make chips for not only themselves, but for Apple as well. They’re currently producing 32 nanometer chips. Will either of these companies upgrade their fabs in 2013/2014? Sure, Intel is working on ironing out all the kinks with their 14 nanometer parts, and Samsung is busy trying to get 20 nanometer processors out the door.
Qualcomm’s quad core Snapdragon S4 is likely going to remain the most advanced smartphone chip on the planet for at least the next two to three quarters, so if you’re thinking about waiting for “the next big thing”, we say don’t bother.