Huawei May Be TSMC’s First 7nm EUV Customer

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The question of who would be TSMC’s first EUV customer has supposedly been answered, though it’s not Qualcomm or Apple, two companies you might have expected. Instead, it’ll reportedly be Huawei bringing the first 7nm EUV chips to market (assuming, of course, that Samsung doesn’t bring their own designs out first).

That’s the word from DigiTimes, which reports the Chinese-language Commercial Times as stating: “Huawei through its chip subsidiary HiSilicon will be TSMC’s first customer adopting the foundry’s N7 Plus and N5 fabrication processes, said the report, without citing its source.”

Early adoption for Huawei as opposed to Qualcomm or Apple might underscore the degree to which China is determined to establish itself as a country capable of competing on the leading-edge of manufacturing and design. Huawei’s worldwide market share has grown significantly over the past few years, even as the United States and other western nations have doubled down, warning against using the companies’ products. Huawei’s silicon has reviewed well, with marked gains in efficiency and overall performance. Anandtech praised the company’s overall Cortex-A76 implementation for the Kirin Mate 980. The site writes: “The new Kirin 980 SoC is an outstanding new SoC. Finally, HiSilicon has been able to bring out a new generation flagship SoC that has manufacturing as well as IP in sync: The new 7nm process node along with the new Cortex-A76 CPUs bring an immense performance jump to the platform, all while improving energy efficiency.”

Huawei’s increasing smartphone sales per quarterly arguably reflect the general improvements to its product lines.

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Huawei quarterly shipments. Image by Statista

The overall performance gains from 7nm EUV are expected to be slim compared to 7nm. The improvements are said to be ~10 percent improved power and possibly 17 percent improved density, with no performance gains. Then, 5nm yields up to 20 percent more power relative to 7nm, with a 15 percent performance and a further 45 percent die reduction. Adopting 7nm EUV (7FF+ in TSMC parlance) will presumably make the gains from 7FF+ to 5nm even smaller, but that’s Huawei’s apparent course of action.

We may see SoC vendors adopting the EUV node as a means of getting their designs ready for it, even if the gains are relatively small. With the 5G transition coming soon, companies could even theoretically align launch cycles to emphasize 5G compatibility and other features rather than a new node of manufacturing if the gains are disappointing. The fairly rapid rollout of 5G might seem to cut against that kind of positioning 12-18 months from now, but 5G’s rollout will occur in stages, rather than all at once, and with some companies already willing to jump the gun on fake deployments, we have no doubt they’ll still be coming up with new ways to market real ones.

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