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TSMC will produce 3nm chips this year and Apple has already grabbed them all

TSMC Wafer
(Image credit: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd.)
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Everyone's favourite chip manufacturer, TSMC, will be producing 3nm before the end of the year, according to a new report on Digitimes (opens in new tab) (via Sweclockers (opens in new tab)). This is almost a year ahead of schedule, and a sign that things are looking good for the production node that follows 5nm. 

Unfortunately, none of these 3nm chips are destined for our PCs, as it appears that Apple has stepped forward to act as guinea pigs for the initial batch of wafers. The likes of AMD and Nvidia will have to make do with the existing 7nm and 5nm for the time being it seems.

The new 3nm production node offers 25–30 percent reduced power consumption compared to the existing 5nm node, or to put it another way 10–15 percent improved performance at the same power level. 

This initial phase that Apple has signed up to is called risk production, which is where the wafer production process has achieved a reliable baseline. The process should work, and everything is in place, but there may be some tweaking needed as a real production run actually starts. 

Basically, there is a risk for Apple here, in that the chips from the wafers may not work at all, or not quite the way they should. The upside is clear enough though—Apple could have access to chips that are faster and more efficient than anything else out there months before everyone else. Some risks are worth taking clearly. 

ProcessCapacity 2021 (wafers/month)Capacity 2023–24 (wafers/month)
3nm30,000105,000
5nm105,000160,000
7nm140,000160,000
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The initial production run is 30,000 silicon wafers per month. For comparison, you're looking at 140,000 7nm wafers each month and 105,000 5nm wafer every month this year.

The projections for the current production runs are intriguing as well, as it doesn't look like TSMC is easing back on the existing 7nm going forward either. In fact, it looks to increase production further at least up to 2024, which is seen as meeting the demand that we're all seeing the effects of right now.

It's worth noting that TSMC won't be alone in the 3nm manufacturing space for long either, as Samsung is expected to start its own 3nm production process in 2022. Nvidia has already turned to Samsung for its RTX 30-Series chips, so things could be lining up nicely for the next few years. Doubly so if Intel can turn its own production problems around.

Alan has been writing about PC tech since before 3D graphics cards existed, and still vividly recalls having to fight with MS-DOS just to get games to load. He fondly remembers the killer combo of a Matrox Millenium and 3dfx Voodoo, and seeing Lara Croft in 3D for the first time. He's very glad hardware has advanced as much as it has though, and is particularly happy when putting the latest M.2 NVMe SSDs, AMD processors, and laptops through their paces. He has a long-lasting Magic: The Gathering obsession but limits this to MTG Arena these days.