In this week's quarterly earnings conference call, TSMC’s revealed that the company expects most of its 7nm "N7" process customers to eventually transition to its forthcoming 6nm "N6" manufacturing node. The upcoming node will use the same design rules as the N7 node, making it easier for customers to transition to the newer, denser node. And, if TSMC's predictions come true, N6 is now on the path towards becoming another widely-utilized, long-serving process node for the company.

In comments made during the quarterly call, CC Wei, TSMC's CEO and vice chairman noted that “most of the customers in the N7 will move to N6.” In fact it sounds like TSMC's N6 node is set to become another one of TSMC's popular, high volume nodes, with Wei further stating that “from that day on probably, the N6 will pick up all the momentum and pick up all the volume production.”

As previously reported, TSMC’s N6 process technologies adopts extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUVL) to lower manufacturing complexity by reducing the number of exposures required for multi-patterning (which is needed today as TSMC’s N7 uses solely DUV lithography). While TSMC's N7+ uses up to four EUVL layers, its N6 expands it up to five layers, whereas N5 expands usage of EUVL all the way to 14 layers.

UPDATE: Correcting the number of EUV layers used by N6 and N7.

While TSMC’s N6 uses new production equipment and offers 18% higher transistor density than the company’s N7 manufacturing technology, N6 uses the same design rules as N7 and enables designers of chips to re-use the same design ecosystem (e.g., tools, etc.), which will allow them to lower development costs. By contrast, N7+ uses different design rules, but also provides more advantages than N6 when compared to N7.

Advertised PPA Improvements of New Process Technologies
Data announced by companies during conference calls, press briefings and in press releases
Power 60% 40% 60% <40% 10% ? 20%
Performance 40% 20% 30% ? same (?) ? 15%
Area Reduction none >50% 70% >37% ~17% ~15% 45%

While TSMC’s partners have adopted both N7 and N7+ processes and the world’s largest contract maker of chips expects the two technologies to contribute over 25% of its wafer revenue in 2019, the former looks to be somewhat more popular that the latter. Meanwhile, TSMC projects that most of its customers who use N7 today will migrate to N6 and then to N5 skipping the N7+. Considering how widespread N7 is going to get, N6 will likely be quite popular as well.

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Source: TSMC, Cadence

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  • HStewart - Thursday, May 2, 2019 - link

    Would be simple call Zen 2 Zen++ and Zen 3 Zen+++
  • levizx - Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - link

    No, Zen2 actually has many architectural improvements, Zen+ has close to ZERO uArch improvement. 2020 will be the same "Zen+"-style process optimization year. And a later roadmap didn't list Renoir and Vermeer as Zen3
  • Santoval - Thursday, May 2, 2019 - link

    There is not going to be a Zen2+, after Zen 2 comes Zen 3.
  • peevee - Thursday, May 2, 2019 - link

    Are you an executive at AMD?
  • AshlayW - Thursday, May 2, 2019 - link

    Ah right. I just assumed they would make a Zen2+.
  • Dragonstongue - Thursday, May 2, 2019 - link

    likely AMD will be going the 7nm+ or I suppose this for the 2020 refresh Zen2+ (the 7nm+ from their regular 7nm is already a touch better, at least AMD (as well as others) will have a nice selection for different product segments
  • eastcoast_pete - Wednesday, May 1, 2019 - link

    Sounds a lot like TSMC is looking for guinea pigs for their first full extreme UV-based manufacturing fab. The interesting thing here is that TSMC hasn't named a single client who is making the "easy" move to the 6 nm process. It looks like most customers will go with the 7 nm FF+ process for their newer chips, as that node seems to have tangible upsides vs. their current 7 nm process, while that's up in the air for the 6 nm process.
  • ZolaIII - Thursday, May 2, 2019 - link

    Apple will probably be the only costumer for N7+, HiSilicon (Huawei) is currently making it's Kirin 985 on N7 EUV, Qualcomm could be first to utilise N6. Each & every current user of N7 (expects Apple) will probably go for N6 as it doesn't cost them much to switch to it while they save 20% on price per unit made.
  • porcupineLTD - Thursday, May 2, 2019 - link

    N7+ =N7 EUV which Huawei will use. Apple will use a custom/semicustom N7 (no EUV) also I bet that next years top Snapdragon will be made by Samsung (they only skipped this year because Samsung didn't have 7nm ready and they did this only for the flagship SoC, all the rest are still fabbed by Samsung).
  • dudedud - Thursday, May 2, 2019 - link

    Any source on "N7 PRO" being non EUV?
    Its hard to believe that Apple will not choose an advanced EUV process.

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