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Intel will soon surpass TSMC in transistor density

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Intel will soon surpass TSMC in transistor density

Intel could regain technological parity with TSMC as early as 2024.
(photo: Intel)

For decades, the trend of doubling the density of transistors in chips every one and a half to two years, according to Moore’s Law, determined the pace of development of computer technology in general. Intel has lost its leadership in this area, but is ambitious to regain it by the middle of the decade.

Independent experts predict that by some criteria Intel will be able to do this as early as 2024. WikiChip Fuse believes in such a scenario, stepping on the results of reports by TSMC on the progress in adopting lithographic standards for 3nm production. It is known that TSMC will offer at least five varieties of the technological process, but the properties of the first two – N3B and N3E – can already be talked about with a certain degree of confidence.

TSMC is expected to master the production of 3nm processors for Apple under the N3B technology process. These chips will appear in the new generation of iPhones this fall and in Mac computers as M3 series processors.

The N3B process won’t be widely used, and most TSMC customers will wait for the company to mass-produce the N3E process, which is planned for the next six months. It is possible that Nvidia will become a customer of TSMC under the N3E technology.

Intel has long considered its own system for designating technological processes to be unfair, so some time ago it switched to a more abstract model that makes it easier to compare with competitors’ technologies. Intel 4, for example, can be compared to TSMC’s N3.

In terms of the density of transistors in the logic blocks of the chips, both companies may reach parity as early as this year, as they will approach 125 million transistors per square millimeter of area.

Of course, within the technological processes of the N3 series, Taiwan’s TSMC can gradually increase the density of transistors to 215 million per square millimeter, but Intel will not stand still. According to experts, within the Intel 20A technological process, the company will be able to surpass TSMC in terms of the density of transistors in the chip.

Indeed, if that happens even by the end of 2024, Intel will fulfill CEO Patrick Gelsinger’s promises to return to technological parity by 2024 and achieve superiority over competitors in 2025 and slightly ahead of schedule.

As the WikiChip Fuse analysis shows, TSMC is not doing well in the lithography area, as each new stage of the technology creates its own challenges and difficulties. The density of transistors in the SRAM memory cells, which forms the cache in modern processors, has not increased at all in the N3 family compared to the N5. Therefore, it will not be so easy for processor developers to increase the amount of cache memory in their chips if it is required to do so within the framework of 3-nm technology.

The Taiwanese company will start producing products based on N2 technology no earlier than 2025, so Intel will have reason to claim technological superiority over its main competitor next year, while maintaining the current pace of progress in the field of the lithography.

According to Intel’s plans, before the end of the decade the company should become the second largest contract chip maker in the world, displacing TSMC from the first place.

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