7-Nanometer Explained

Credit: ID 773914 © Antti Karppinen | Dreamstime.com

If you’re a PC user (enthusiast or not) in 2019, there’s a good chance you might have seen the words 7-nanometer. Here’s what you need to know and here’s why you should be excited about 7-nanometer 

What is 7-nanometer?

When used in relation to stuff like CPUs and video cards, the term 7-nanometer refers to the size of the transistors involved. The smaller the transistor, the more you can fit onto a piece of silicon and the more powerful and complex that the components built from these transistors are able to be.

At the time of writing, there are two main players in the 7nm production space: Samsung and TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company).

TSMC are responsible for helping AMD, Qualcomm, Apple and other major technology companies make the jump to 7-nanometer. 

What about Intel?

Intel are in a weird spot. Though their products and customers would undoubtedly benefit from making the leap to 7-nanometer, the world's biggest CPU maker has struggled to get there. In fact, the bulk of their modern processors are still based on a 14-nanometer process. They haven't even gotten to 10-nanometer yet - though not for lack of trying.

In 2013, Intel first announced their plans to move beyond their existing 14nm architecture and onto the more advanced 10nm process by 2015. However, this transition has been the subject of numerous delays. Eventually though, Intel got there. As of this year's Computex, the company are now shipping their first 10nm Intel Core "Ice-Lake" processors.

Of course, the other thing to note here is that - according to the company - Intel's 10nm process is said to be comparable to the 7nm process used by TSMC and others. The company also claim that their first 7nm products will offer twice the density found in it's 10nm offering.

Dr. Murthy Renduchintala, Intel’s chief engineering officer, indicated to shareholders in January 2019 that the lead 7nm product is expected to be an Intel Xe architecture-based, general-purpose GPU for data center AI and high-performance computing. This GPU is expected to launch in 2021.

Why is 7-nanometer better?

Compared to earlier and larger transistor manufacturing processes, 7-nanometer presents a number of advantages and efficiencies. To begin with, smaller transistors are more power efficient. They also allow for smaller die sizes and increased density at those smaller sizes. 

7nm is effectively twice as dense as the previous 14nm node. If we’re talking about PC performance, that’s not as big a deal but if we’re talking about smaller form-factors like ACPCs, laptops, tablets and mobile devices, 7-nanometer transistors represent a major yield in performance per watt. This in turn should increase battery life for smaller devices. 

What’s next? 5-nanometers?

Good question. Some reports say that both Samsung and TSMC are looking at manufacturing 5-nanometer transistors from as soon as 2020. The advantages here would be much akin to what 7-nanometer offers versus 14-nanometer.

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Fergus Halliday
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