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TSMC comes to America, plus more tech news you need to know

From chipmaker TSMC's US play to Sony's cool new AR app and more, here's all the major tech news today.

Published onMay 15, 2020

Folded HUAWEI Mate X with Dgit on display

Your tech news digest, by way of the DGiT Daily tech newsletter, for Friday, May 15.

1. TSMC comes to America

It’s official: TSMC will build and open a 5nm advanced chip factory in Arizona (WSJ, $), it announced today.

  • The new plant is set to cost roughly $12 billion (which includes all costs, over nine years), and construction will be subsidized by the US government, with 1,900 advanced jobs and 20,000 silicon wafers made per month.
  • TSMC, the world’s eighth-largest tech company based on market value, is about as close to a household name as you might get because the firm makes Apple’s A-series chips, including the latest A13 Bionic series. It also partners with Qualcomm for Snapdragon chips, NVIDIA GPUs, MediaTek, HUAWEI’s HiSilicon chips, and AMD.
  • The plant would make 5-nanometer (5nm) transistor chips, which is a ridiculously small-yet-somehow-normal number already in use in AMD CPUs.
  • It’s worth remembering that a 5nm transistor size means more than 1400 transistors fit on a single red blood cell.
  • It’s not quite the absolute bleeding edge (no pun intended): Samsung and TSMC are working on a 3nm process, although Samsung generally focuses on memory production.
  • This newsletter avoids politics as much as possible, but the reasoning at play is to do with supply chains, national security, and general American first protectionism policies.
  • TSMC isn’t the only one: the Silicon Desert, as it’s being called, in Arizona is growing, already including Intel and Microchip.
  • And the question will be if it actually happens. Announcements, like Hon Hai Technology Group (Foxconn)’s plant in Wisconsin, are cheap. Even building an empty building for Hon Hai Technology Group (Foxconn) is cheap, compared to $10B in slated costs.

What it could all mean:

  • Construction is said to commence in 2021, with production targeted to start in 2024, so nothing changes today for consumers, with the ripple-effects on semiconductor design, development and manufacturing.
  • It may mean Apple chips may soon be made in the US.
  • But without the likes of Hon Hai Technology Group (Foxconn) investing in assembly in the USA, iPhones will still be made elsewhere, though. And that’s hugely unlikely, given one million people work for Hon Hai Technology Group (Foxconn) in Zhengzhou. One. Million.
  • The issue of if this could see chip prices rise (more costly manufacturing?) or fall (no tariffs on USA-made chips?) is open, but expect this to be probed.
  • Will 5nm be cutting edge enough by 2024? It clearly won’t be state-of-the-art by then, but upgrades will be possible, and the mid-tier of chips hasn’t come close to 5nm process yet.

2. Pixel 4a price leak: Google could be bringing the fight to the iPhone SE: $349 would be very interesting indeed (Android Authority).

3. “The only reason the Pixel line isn’t Android’s crown jewel is Google”. Hard to disagree here with C. Scott (Android Authority).

4. Apple acquired NextVR for a suggested $100m which announced on its website it was shut. This might be about data or maybe another likely step towards Apple’s future AR and VR headsets. Reports are Apple is pushing ahead with two products, but who knows what consumers will see from the ‘Apple Glasses’ by 2022, which is the latest rumored date for being announced (Bloomberg).

5. How to extend the life of your laptop (CNET).

6. Sony AR app shows if a new TV will fit your room: no more measuring (Engadget).

7. Inside HBO Max, the $4B bet to stand out in the streaming wars. The cast of Friends is just the start – great reading, save it for your weekend (Variety).

8. The Epic Games store was down for hours as everyone tried to get GTA V for free. Also, yes, GTA V is free on the Epic Games store!! Coming soon, from reports: Civilization 6, Borderlands – The Handsome Collection, and ARK Survival (The Verge).

9. Watch 18 minutes of new Ghost of Tsushima gameplay footage. I needed about 18 seconds before deciding I want to play (The Verge).

10. Ubisoft’s educational Assassin’s Creed tours are free until May 21st: learn Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece (Engadget).

11. Million-mile batteries: Why Tesla is so interested in ‘Cell-To-Pack’ batteries (Jalopnik).

12. Chrome will soon block resource-draining ads: Here’s how to turn it on now using Chrome flags (Ars Technica).

13. “How come the space station needs to fire a rocket regularly to stay in orbit, but dangerous space junk can stay up there indefinitely?” (r/askscience).

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