The Taiwan Economic Daily (via GizChina (opens in new tab)), the favoured read of the discerning PC gamer everywhere, reports that TSMC, a chip manufacturer local to the area, has had a major breakthrough in implementing a 2nm process node for creating the billions of transistors that translate into the good stuff we like in our PCs.
What is that breakthrough? Why, a new multi-bridge channel field effect transistor of course! Current chips, starting with the 22nm process back in 2011ish, use FinFETs, that is field-effect transistors with a fin, a 3D sticky-uppy bit that solves the problems caused by making transistors ever smaller.
This is fine until you get down to 5nm, which is where we are today. Hit the atomic level (3nm is 25 silicon atoms laid in a row) and FinFETs start leaking current, which is not what you want in something that’s essentially a switch.
TSMC’s new transistors are GAAFETs, that’s a field-effect transistor with gates all around it. Depending on the design, gate-all-around FETs can have two or four effective gates. By applying voltage at the gate, you can control the current between the source and drain, switching it from 0 to 1 and creating all the wonderful binary logic of a modern processor.
Samsung is chasing GAAFETs too, intending to introduce them in its 3nm node for a 35% performance increase over 7nm with a 50% drop in power consumption, and is investing $500 million in the process.
TSMC, however, is holding off until 2nm, and is on course to enter trial production in 2023, with mass production following in 2024. Before you get too excited about your 2nm AMD Zen 5 CPU, it is worth noting that its mass production is likely to be used in less complex silicon than an advanced processor.
There's also the fact that while TSMC is pumping out 5nm chips at the moment they're only in the hands of the Apple elite right now. AMD has also not stipulated a point where it will switch nodes from its 7nm happy place, so we might end up having to make do with a thicc 3nm Zen processor while a 2nm iPhone lords over us.