Rarely do I fly first class but I did on my recent trip to Asia. It was one of the new planes with pod-like seats that transforms into a bed. The flight left SFO at 1 A.M. so I fell asleep almost immediately missing the first gourmet meal. About half way through the flight I found myself barely awake staring straight up and what do I see? STARS! That has got to be one of the last things anyone wants to see while looking up on an international flight! Seriously, who puts fake stars on the ceiling of an airplane! EVA Airlines that’s who!
When I travel a lot of people want to meet with me to get the latest news from Silicon Valley. In exchange I get the latest news from wherever they are so it is a very nice quid pro quo type of thing, absolutely. The most common topics are the SoC and foundry business since they currently drive the semiconductor industry. Apple and Qualcomm are the most talked about SoC companies but Mediatek, Samsung, and even Intel are always discussed.
Let’s start with Apple: The big iProduct announcement is next week and we will finally get to see what is inside the iPhone 6s! Again, my bet is a Samsung based 14nm A9 SoC and inside the new iPads will be a TSMC based 16nm A9x SoC. I was right on the iPhone 5s (Samsung 28nm) and iPhone 6 (TSMC 20nm) so let’s see if I can keep my streak going. My bet is also that the Apple A9x will outperform all other SoCs and will continue to do so until mid to late next year.
Moving forward it is my bet that Apple will continue with TSMC 16nm for the iPhone7 with an enhanced version of the process specifically for Apple. Based on what I know today 10nm will not be in production in time for the iPhone 7 but could make it for the next iPads since iPads come out later in the year and require less volume. Currently Samsung and TSMC both have pre-production 10nm PDKs available but final decisions by the fabless elite have not been made. We should know more about where the fabless elite will fab 10nm at the end of this year. I would not expect 10nm production to start before Q2 2017 as there have been delays. The iProduct refresh in 2017 however will be 10nm for sure.
QCOM has a history of 2[SUP]nd[/SUP], 3[SUP]rd[/SUP], and even 4[SUP]th[/SUP] sourcing chip manufacturing down to 40nm. At 28nm everyone was forced into a monogamous relationship with TSMC which was very uncomfortable for a promiscuous company like QCOM. At 28nm QCOM is now in production at UMC and hopes to get ramped up at SMIC to appease the Chinese gods. QCOM as we have all heard will use both Samsung 14nm and GlobalFoundries 14nm for the next generation of Snapdragons. I’m also told that QCOM will use TSMC 16FF+ and they have a 14nm development agreement with SMIC in process.
Mediatek of course manufactures next door (literally) at TSMC and UMC and I do not see that changing anytime soon. Mediatek has hit semiconductor rock star status in Taiwan and they have attracted many ex TSMC and UMC employees. Not only does this give Mediatek leading edge design experience, it also gives them access to the inner foundry ranks. Given the importance of low power design for mobile I would bet Mediatek products will be FinFET enabled next year with the rest of the fabless elite so watch out QCOM!
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