While TSMC formally started mass production of chips on its N3 (3nm-class) process technology late last year, the company is set to finally ship the first revenue wafers in the current quarter. During the most recent earnings call with analysts and investors, the company said that demand for 3 nm products was steady, and that numerous designs for smartphones and high-performance applications are incoming later this year. Furthermore, N3E manufacturing node is on track for high-volume manufacturing later this year.

"We are seeing robust demand for N3 and we expect a strong ramp of N3 in the second half of this year, supported by both HPC and smartphone applications," said C.C. Wei, chief executive officer of TSMC, during the company's earnings. Call with financial analysts and investors.

Previously the company never commented on applications that use its initial N3 fabrication process, but for now it actually disclosed that devices that are in mass production are designed for smartphones as well as HPC applications, which is a vague term which TSMC uses to describe everything from handheld game consoles all the way to heavy-duty smartphone SoCs. 

For customer privacy reasons, TSMC does not disclose which customers are using N3. Though historically, Apple has been TSMC's alpha client for its leading-edge process technologies, so they're the most likely candidate to be the biggest consumer of TSMC's N3 output. 

TSMC's baseline N3 node (aka N3B) is an expensive technology to use. It features up to 25 EUV layers (according to China Renaissance and SemiAnalysis) with TSMC using EUV double-patterning on some of them to make for higher logic and SRAM transistor density than N5. EUV steps are expensive in general, and EUV double patterning drives those costs up further, which is why this fabrication process is only expected to be used by a handful of customers who are not as concerned about the high expenditure required. 

For those who are more cost sensitive, there is N3E, which can 'only' use up to 19 EUV layers and does not use EUV double patterning. Good news is that TSMC expects to commence mass production on this node to Q4 2023.

N3E has passed qualification and achieved performance and yield target and will start volume production in the fourth quarter of this year," said Wei.

Source: TSMC

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  • Dante Verizon - Saturday, July 22, 2023 - link

    And ? I think we already have plenty of performance in smartphones, there's no real use for it, not for the vast majority. Web pages and apps already open in one second, as any mid-end device has 8GB of ram and fast storage. The only moderately exciting smartphone-related thing I've heard about is Samsung using some new technology taken from EVs to increase the battery density of the Galaxy S24. Everything is so Meh these days.
  • name99 - Sunday, July 23, 2023 - link

    The reason Android will always lag Apple is that Android is always about price optimizing what mattered five years ago, not investigating what will matter soon.

    We all (including Apple) know that phones are now fast enough for "normal" compute, and the Apple phones are even fast enough for current gen computational photography and image extraction. So what's next?
    Look at:

    Apple seem to be seriously all-in on AI, including language AI. But in the usual Apple way, rather than hype and promises, they're saying nothing before a product is ready, but are quietly designing the hardware necessary to up-end what's possible in this space on even a phone...
    The first of those patents is 2020; so maybe that's enough lead time from the idea to see something in the A17/M3 this year? Or maybe still another year or two required to move through design, optimization, manufacturing, them writing and optimizing SW?
  • PeachNCream - Saturday, July 22, 2023 - link

    Is this actually 3nm or are we talking more like wrapped in air quotes with a little star next to it that points to a disclaimer about how its not really a 3nm process?
  • tipoo - Saturday, July 22, 2023 - link

    This is a real generational jump in node, not like 4nm really being 5nm warmed over. N3E being different than N3B doesn't change this.
  • TomWomack - Saturday, July 22, 2023 - link

    The air quotes have been there for a very long time; the "3nm process" has a metal pitch of 24nm and a gate pitch of 48nm, whilst a 45nm process had a metal and gate pitch both of 160nm, and TSMC 16FF has a metal pitch of 70nm and a gate pitch of 90nm.
  • nandnandnand - Sunday, July 23, 2023 - link

    It's not worth talking about except for an occasional reminder for the newcomers.
  • escksu - Monday, July 24, 2023 - link

    I have to say I am not particularly keen in 3nm. This is because of much higher cost compared to 5nm and the cost is passed on to consumers. I would say we are hitting a limit on how much we are willing to pay for a mobile phone.
  • PeachNCream - Monday, July 24, 2023 - link

    Agreed! This year I had to upgrade out of my LG Rebel 3 which I got for $10 as a refurbished phone quite a few years ago. I ended up with a TCL A3 and though it still has a headphone jack and removable battery (with a few extras like 3GB of RAM vs 2GB and 32GB of storage instead of 16GB) it set me back $40!

    Sure it's faster and has more of everything, but I didn't even need any of those capabilities since the Rebel 3 was perfectly okay. Android 7 was the problem because it was too old to run my bank's software. I guess there were security implications as well, but it was all software rather than hardware.

    Some of that was inflation and some of it was refurb vs new, but paying $40 for a phone feels utterly stupid in 2023 and I'm terminally miffed by Tracfone for bumping the price of handsets. I can't even imagine what the massive number of idiots on mainstream contracts buying thousand dollar phones are going to do with themselves when they can't get their pocket cellular candy because they're not upper middle class.
  • jjjag - Monday, July 24, 2023 - link

    I think you are incorrect on that point. Everybody said that back when phones were no longer "Free with Contract", then they said that when phones passed $200, then $500, then $1000. Combined with forced obsolescence, forced battery life degradation with software upgrades, peer pressure amongst the Zoomers, and other factors, and people will pay whatever Samsung and Apple tell them to pay. Combined with the fact that smartphones never became a PC-replacement , which means you still have to buy one of those, and the cost of technology is higher than ever and moving up at an alarming exponential pace. By most measures, around 2015 was the bottom for overall cost of technology related items, and it's now to the point where 10 year projections show technology as actually CREATING poverty, rather than helping to solve it, which it had been doing for many years before.
  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, July 25, 2023 - link

    There are days I don't bother to turn on my PC. A bluetooth keyboard and a phone stand (~$30 USD total from Amazon) and my laptop has far less usage than it ever has in the past. It doesn't even have a desktop-friendly UI or screen share like Dex or whatever Samsung calls it.

    PCs do, I very much agree, are a generally unnecessary cost at least in the way a lot of people decide to use them. Overabundance of input power, frequent upgrades, tinkering and tweaking that kills components, whole home cooling to offset waste heat generation, time thrown away trying to earn money as a streamer and/or time thrown away playing rather than job-seeking or investing in self-betterment. The TCO of a PC for an enthusiast/gamer/streamer can often be hundreds of thousands of USD equivelent currency over the years in direct and indirect costs and lost/never obtained income that most people don't even realize they missed. It's quite sad, but their losses power an entire industry of people that feed off them and benefit from it so that is unlikely to change in the near term.

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