Earlier this year, a rumor claimed that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 SoC would be manufactured by TSMC on a 10nm LPE process. However, the rumor turned out to be inaccurate as Qualcomm made it official recently that the Snapdragon 845 will, in fact, be built on Samsung’s second-generation 10nm Low Power Plus (LPP) node. Now, a report from Nikkei Asian Review claims TSMC will be manufacturing Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipset on its advanced 7nm process technology by the end of 2018.
Before manufacturing the Snapdragon 855 chipset, Qualcomm is apparently going to task TSMC with manufacturing a modem chip in the first half of 2018. TSMC’s 7nm node will also be used to manufacture the next-gen Apple A12 chipset that will power the Cupertino-based firm’s 2018 iPhone models. Unlike Qualcomm, Apple’s custom mobile chipsets have been manufactured exclusively by TSMC since 2016. Huawei’s latest flagship mobile SoC, the Kirin 970 is also being manufactured by TSMC on its 10nm node. Qualcomm doesn’t really have much of a choice though, as Samsung isn’t expected to be ready to produce 7nm chips next year. The South Korean conglomerate’s 7nm chip facility will likely be operational only in 2019. Once that happens, it is possible that Qualcomm will transfer orders back to Samsung. Unlike TSMC, Samsung is skipping 7nm chips to jump straight to 7nm plus chips using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) tools. TSMC, on the other hand, plans to start fabricating 7nm plus chips using EUV tools in 2019. While EUV will allow chips to be more efficient, the process is said to be quite challenging technically.
The jump from 10nm to 7nm should allow the Snapdragon 855 to deliver significant performance as well as efficiency gains compared to the Snapdragon 845 chip. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845, which will be powering most flagship Android smartphones to be released next year, isn’t expected to be a significant upgrade over the current Snapdragon 835, thanks to the relatively minor jump in the fabrication process technology.