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IBM Announces World's First 2nm Chip Technology

IBM today unveiled a breakthrough in semiconductor design and process with the development of the world's first chip announced with 2 nanometer (nm) nanosheet technology. Semiconductors play critical roles in everything from computing, to appliances, to communication devices, transportation systems, and critical infrastructure.

Demand for increased chip performance and energy efficiency continues to rise, especially in the era of hybrid cloud, AI, and the Internet of Things. IBM's new 2 nm chip technology helps advance the state-of-the-art in the semiconductor industry, addressing this growing demand. It is projected to achieve 45 percent higher performance, or 75 percent lower energy use, than today's most advanced 7 nm node chips.

Tenstorrent Selects SiFive Intelligence X280 for Next-Generation AI Processors

SiFive, Inc., the industry leader in RISC-V processors and silicon solutions, today announced that Tenstorrent, an AI semiconductor and software start-up developing next-generation computers, will license the new SiFive Intelligence X280 processor in its AI training and inference processor. SiFive will deliver more details of its SiFive Intelligence initiative including the SiFive Intelligence X280 processor at the Linley Spring Processor Conference on April 23rd.

Tenstorrent's novel approach to inference and training effectively and efficiently accommodates the exponential growth in the size of machine learning models while offering best-in-class performance.

TSMC to Enter 4 nm Node Volume Production in Q4 of 2021

TSMC, the world leader in semiconductor manufacturing, has reportedly begun with plans to start volume production of the 4 nm node by the end of this year. According to the sources over at DigiTimes, Taiwan's leading semiconductor manufacturer could be on the verge of starting volume production of an even smaller node. The new 4 nm node is internally referred to as a part of the N5 node generation. The N5 generation covers N5 (regular 5 nm), N5P (5 nm+), and N4 process that is expected to debut soon. And perhaps the most interesting thing is that the 4 nm process will be in high-volume production in Q4, with Apple expected to be one of the major consumers of the N5 node family.

DigiTimes reports that Apple will use the N5P node for the upcoming Apple A15 SoCs for next-generation iPhones, while the more advanced N4 node will find itself as a base of the new Macs equipped with custom Apple Silicon SoCs. To find out more, we have to wait for the official product launches and see just how much improvement new nodes bring.

Apple Mac Pro 2022 Rumored to Feature Custom 64-Core Processor & Sell For 19,000 USD

Apple relaunched the Mac Pro in 2019 with a return to the original tower form factor and packing 24-core Intel Xeon-W processors paired with AMD Radeon Pro Vega GPUs. Apple is reportedly planning to release a fourth-generation Mac Pro in 2022 with the most powerful Apple silicon yet. The 2022 Mac Pro will be available in three base configurations with 32, 48, and 64 core versions featuring new processors developed by Apple with similar performance and power-efficient core designs as found in the Apple M1.

The entry-level 32 core model will include 24 high-performance cores, 32 GPU cores, 64 GB ram, and will start at 5,499 USD. The mid-range 48 core model will include 36 high-performance cores, 64 GPU cores, 256 GB ram, and will start at 11,999 USD. The highest-end 64 core model will include 48 high-performance cores, 128 GPU cores, 512 GB ram, and will start at 18,999 USD. Storage options will vary from 512 GB to 8 TB of SSD storage as is currently available. These machines are shaping up to be some of the most powerful prosumer computers available if these rumors are true.

Apple is Discontinuing Intel-based iMac Pro

According to the official company website, Apple will no longer manufacture its iMac Pro computers based on Intel processors. Instead, the company will carry these models in its store, only while the supplies last. Apple will be replacing these models with next-generation iMac Pro devices that will be home to the custom Apple Silicon processors, combining Arm CPU cores with custom GPU design. Having a starting price of 4990 USD, the Apple iMac Pro was able to max out at 15000 USD. The most expensive part was exactly the Intel Xeon processor inside it, among the AMD GPU with HBM. Configuration pricing was also driven by storage/RAM options. However, even the most expensive iMac Pro with its 2017 hardware had no chance against the regular 2020 iMac, so the product was set to be discontinued sooner or later.

When the stock of the iMac Pro runs out, Apple will replace this model with its Apple Silicon equipped variant. According to the current rumor mill, Apple is set to hold a keynote on March 16th that will be an announcement for new iMac Pro devices with custom processors. What happens is only up to Apple, so we have to wait and see.

ADATA Explains Changes with XPG SX8200 Pro SSD

ADATA has recently been in a spot of controversy when it comes to their XPG SX8200 Pro solid-state drive (SSD). The company has reportedly shipped many different configurations of the SSD with different drive controller clock speeds and different NAND flash. According to the original report, ADATA has first shipped the SX8200 Pro SSD with Silicon Motion SM2262ENG SSD controller, running at 650 MHz with IMFT 64-layer TLC NAND Flash. However, it was later reported that the SSD was updated to use the Silicon Motion SM2262G SSD controller, clocked at 575 MHz. With this report, many users have gotten concerned and started to question the company's practices. However, ADATA later ensured everyone that performance is within the specifications and there is no need to worry.

Today, we have another report about the ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro SSD. According to a Redditor, ADATA has once again updated its SSD with a different kind of NAND Flash, however, this time the report indicated that performance was impacted. Tom's Hardware has made a table of changes showing as many as five revisions of the SSD, all with different configurations of SSD controllers and NAND Flash memory. We have contacted ADATA to clarify the issues that have emerged, and this is the official response that the company gave us.

Apple M1 Processor Manages to Mine Ethereum

Ethereum mining has been a crazy ride over the years. In recent times, it has become very popular due to a huge surge in Ethereum prices, following those of the main coin currently present on the market - Bitcoin. However, Ethereum miners use a customized PC stocked with many graphics cards to mine the Ethereum coin. Any other alternative is not viable and graphics cards have a high hash rate of the KECCAK-256 hashing algorithm. But have you ever wondered could you mine Ethereum on your shiny new Apple M1-equipped Mac? Our guess is no, however, there are still some people making experiments with the new Apple M1 processor and testing its capabilities.

Software engineer Yifan Gu, working for Zensors, has found a way to use Apple's M1 GPU to mine Ethereum. Mr. Gu has ported Ethminer utility to Apple's macOS for Apple Silicon and has managed to get GPU mining the coins. While technically it was possible, the results were rather poor. The integrated GPU has managed to get only 2 MH/s of mining power, which is rather low compared to alternatives (desktop GPUs). Being possible doesn't mean it is a good idea. The software will consume all of the GPU power and it will limit your work with the GPU, so it isn't exactly a profitable solution.

SiPearl to Manufacture its 72-Core Rhea HPC SoC at TSMC Facilities

SiPearl has this week announced their collaboration with Open-Silicon Research, the India-based entity of OpenFive, to produce the next-generation SoC designed for HPC purposes. SiPearl is a part of the European Processor Initiative (EPI) team and is responsible for designing the SoC itself that is supposed to be a base for the European exascale supercomputer. In the partnership with Open-Silicon Research, SiPearl expects to get a service that will integrate all the IP blocks and help with the tape out of the chip once it is done. There is a deadline set for the year 2023, however, both companies expect the chip to get shipped by Q4 of 2022.

When it comes to details of the SoC, it is called Rhea and it will be a 72-core Arm ISA based processor with Neoverse Zeus cores interconnected by a mesh. There are going to be 68 mesh network L3 cache slices in between all of the cores. All of that will be manufactured using TSMC's 6 nm extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) technology for silicon manufacturing. The Rhea SoC design will utilize 2.5D packaging with many IP blocks stitched together and HBM2E memory present on the die. It is unknown exactly what configuration of HBM2E is going to be present. The system will also see support for DDR5 memory and thus enable two-level system memory by combining HBM and DDR. We are excited to see how the final product looks like and now we wait for more updates on the project.

Samsung to Build $17 Billion Silicon Manufacturing Plant in the US by 2023

Samsung has been one of the world's biggest foundries and one of three big players still left in the leading-edge semiconductor process development and manufacturing. However, the Korean giant is always seeking ways to improve its offerings, especially for Western customers. Today, it is reported that Samsung has reportedly talked with regulators in Texas, New York, and Arizona about building a $17 billion silicon manufacturing facility in the United States. The supposed factory is going to be located near Austin, Texas, and is supposed to offer around 1800 jobs. If the deal is approved and Samsung manages to complete the project on time, the factory is supposed to start mass production in Q4 of 2023.

What process is Samsung going to manufacture in the new fab? Well, current speculations are pointing out to the 3 nm node, with Samsung's special GAAFET (Gate All Around FET) technology tied to the new node. The fab is also expected to make use of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography for manufacturing. Samsung already has a facility in the US called S2, however, that will not be upgraded as it is still serving a lot of clients. Instead, the company will build new facilities to accommodate the demand for newer nodes. It is important to note that Samsung will not do any R&D work in the new fab, and the company will only manufacture the silicon there.

Apple Patents Multi-Level Hybrid Memory Subsystem

Apple has today patented a new approach to how it uses memory in the System-on-Chip (SoC) subsystem. With the announcement of the M1 processor, Apple has switched away from the traditional Intel-supplied chips and transitioned into a fully custom SoC design called Apple Silicon. The new designs have to integrate every component like the Arm CPU and a custom GPU. Both of these processors need good memory access, and Apple has figured out a solution to the problem of having both the CPU and the GPU accessing the same pool of memory. The so-called UMA (unified memory access) represents a bottleneck because both processors share the bandwidth and the total memory capacity, which would leave one processor starving in some scenarios.

Apple has patented a design that aims to solve this problem by combining high-bandwidth cache DRAM as well as high-capacity main DRAM. "With two types of DRAM forming the memory system, one of which may be optimized for bandwidth and the other of which may be optimized for capacity, the goals of bandwidth increase and capacity increase may both be realized, in some embodiments," says the patent, " to implement energy efficiency improvements, which may provide a highly energy-efficient memory solution that is also high performance and high bandwidth." The patent got filed way back in 2016 and it means that we could start seeing this technology in the future Apple Silicon designs, following the M1 chip.

Update 21:14 UTC: We have been reached out by Mr. Kerry Creeron, an attorney with the firm of Banner & Witcoff, who provided us with additional insights about the patent. Mr. Creeron has provided us with his personal commentary about it, and you can find Mr. Creeron's quote below.

Linux Gets Ported to Apple's M1-Based Devices

When Apple introduces its lineup of devices based on the custom Apple Silicon, many people have thought that it represents the end for any further device customization and that Apple is effectively locking-up the ecosystem even more. That is not the case we have today. Usually, developers working on Macs are always in need of another operating system to test their software and try it out. It means that they have to run some virtualization software like virtual machines to test another OS like Linux and possibly Windows. However, it would be a lot easier if they could just boot that OS directly on the device and that is exactly why we are here today.

Researchers from Corellium, a startup company based in Florida, working on ARM device virtualization, have pulled off an incredible feat. They have managed to get Linux running on Apple's M1 custom silicon based devices. The CTO of Corellium, Mr. Chris Wade, has announced that Linux is now fully usable on M1 silicon. The port can take full advantage of the CPU, however, there is no GPU acceleration for now, and graphics are set to the software rendering mode. Corellium also promises to take the changes it made upstream to the Linux kernel itself, meaning open-source and permissive license model. Below you can find an image of Apple M1 Mac Mini running the latest Ubuntu OS build.

Prices of NAND Flash Controller ICs Poised to Rise by 15-20% due to Tightening Production Capacity for Foundry Services, Says TrendForce

In the upstream semiconductor industry, the major foundries such as TSMC and UMC are reporting fully loaded capacities, while in the downstream, the available production capacity for OSAT is also lacking, according to TrendForce's latest investigations. Given this situation, suppliers of NAND Flash controller ICs such as Phison and Silicon Motion are now unable to meet upside demand from their clients. Not only have many controller IC suppliers temporarily stopped offering quotes for new orders, but they are also even considering raising prices soon because the negotiations between NAND Flash suppliers and module houses over 1Q21 contracts are now at the critical juncture. The potential increases in prices of controller ICs from outsourced suppliers (IC design houses) are currently estimated to be the range of 15-20%.

With regards to the demand side, demand has risen significantly for eMMC solutions with medium- and low-density specifications (i.e., 64 GB and lower), for which NAND Flash suppliers have mostly stopped updating the NAND Flash process technology, while maintaining support with the legacy 2D NAND or the 64L 3D NAND process. This is on account of strong sales for Chromebook devices and TVs. As older processes gradually account for a lowering portion of bit output proportions from NAND Flash suppliers, these companies are exhibiting a lowered willingness to directly supply such eMMC products to clients. As a result, clients now need to turn to memory module houses, which are able to source NAND Flash components and controllers, to procure eMMC products in substantial quantities.

China Develops Tools for 28 nm Silicon Manufacturing

When the US decided to impose sanctions on all US-made technology use in foreign countries (China), the Chinese semiconductor manufacturing industry seemed at the time that it would just completely stop. Without the tools to manufacture silicon, Chinese manufacturers would need to turn to other countries to search for a possible solution. That, however, turned out impossible as the US administration has decided to stop the silicon from going into the hands of Chinese companies, by making a condition that any US-made technology can not get to China. Many of the parts for silicon manufacturing are designed in the US, so they have the power to restrict the use.

Today, in a surprising turn of events, we have information that Shanghai Micro Electronic Equipment (SMEE) has developed a deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography scanner that is set for delivery in 2021. With a plan to deliver it in the fourth quarter of 2021, SMEE has designed this DUV scanner for the production of 28 nm node. While not being the most advanced node available to date, it is a significant start for Chinese technology independence. ASML, the producer of such scanners, used to be one of the few options there, however, it just gained a competitor. China will deliver its new silicon on a 28 nm process at the end of 2021. Pictured below, you can see how the scanner from SMEE looks like.

Intel to Keep Its Number One Semiconductor Supplier Ranking in 2020: IC Insights

IC Insights' November Update to the 2020 McClean Report, released later this month, includes a discussion of the forecasted top-25 semiconductor suppliers in 2020. This research bulletin covers the expected top-15 2020 semiconductor suppliers (Figure 1).

The November Update also includes a detailed five-year forecast through 2024 of the IC market by product type (including dollar volume, unit shipments, and average selling price) and a forecast of the major semiconductor industry capital spenders for 2020. A five-year outlook for total semiconductor industry capital spending is also provided.

Alleged Apple M1X Processor Specifications Surface

Apple's silicon design team has recently launched its "fastest" CPU core ever, found inside the company's M1 processor designed for laptops and mini-PCs. Featuring an eight-core processor, where four cores are represented by low power small configurations, and four big, high-performance design cores, the M1 processor proved to be extremely fast. However, the Apple Silicon processor doesn't seem to cover anything higher than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. And that is about to change. When it comes to higher-end models like the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which provides more cooling area, it is logical that the processor for those designs is a higher performance design.

Enter the world of the Apple M1X processor. Designed for high-end laptops and the most demanding workloads, the new processor aims to create a new performance level. Featuring a 12-core CPU with eight big and four small cores, the M1X processor is going to deliver much better performance than M1. The graphics and memory configuration are currently unknown, so we have to wait and see how it will look like. The M1X is set to arrive sometime in Q1 of 2021, according to the source of the leak, so be patient and remember to take this information with a grain of salt.

Samsung Could Become Apple's Newest Chip Supplier

Apple has recently announced its transition to Apple Silicon, meaning that every processor inside its products will be custom designed by the company. However, that seems to be becoming a bit of a problem. The sole supplier of chips for Apple has been Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which Apple collaborated with for the past few years. The sheer capacity of TSMC is enough to satisfy the demand from several companies and thus it allows some of them to book its capacity. With Apple demanding more and more capacity than ever before, it is becoming quite hard to keep up with it. That is why Apple is, according to some analysts for Business Korea, looking for a foundry beyond TSMC's to manufacture its chips.

According to the source, Apple is looking at the direction of Samsung Electronics and its silicon manufacturing facilities. Samsung has recently started the production of its 5 nm silicon manufacturing node. We have reported that the first SoCs are set to arrive soon. However, it may be possible that Apple's M1 lineup of SoCs will be a part of that first wave. Apple is reportedly going to tap both TSMC and Samsung to qualify enough supply for the huge demand of the products based on the latest 5 nm technology.

Apple's M1-Based MacBook Air Benchmarked

When Apple announced that they are going to switch their Mac lineup from Intel-based x86 processors to the custom "Apple Silicon," everyone was wondering how the new processors will look and perform. To everyone's luck, Apple has just a few days ago announced its first Apple Silicon custom processor for MacBook. The M1, as the company calls it, is their first processor designed for higher-power and performance tasks The M1 features eight CPU cores (four high-performance and four-high efficiency) paired with eight cores dedicated to the graphics. On the die, there is also a 16-core neural engine made to accelerate machine learning tasks found in the new applications.

Today, we are getting the first GeekBench 5 CPU benchmarks that showcase just how far Apple has come with its custom design. What we have is the M1 processor found in MacBook Air. This Mac model features a passive cooling system, cooling a CPU with a base frequency of 3.2 GHz. The system scored 1719 points in the single-core result, and 6967 points in the multi-core result. The single-threaded results measure itself with some of the highest-end offerings from Intel and AMD, while the multi-threaded results are very good given the mix and match of small and big cores.

China Forecast to Represent 22% of the Foundry Market in 2020, says IC Insights

IC Insights recently released its September Update to the 2020 McClean Report that presented the second of a two-part analysis on the global IC foundry industry and included a look at the pure-play foundry market by region.

China was responsible for essentially all of the total pure-play foundry market increase in 2018. In 2019, the U.S./China trade war slowed China's economic growth but its foundry marketshare still increased by two percentage points to 21%. Moreover, despite the Covid-19 shutdown of China's economy earlier this year, China's share of the pure-play foundry market is forecast to be 22% in 2020, 17 percentage points greater than it registered in 2010 (Figure 1).

TSMC Ramps Up 3 nm Node Production

TSMC has had quite a good time recently. They are having all of their capacity fully booked and the development of new semiconductor nodes is going good. Today, thanks to the report of DigiTimes, we have found out that TSMC is ramping up the production lines to prepare for 3 nm high-volume manufacturing. The 3 nm node is expected to enter HVM in 2022, which is not that far away. In the beginning, the new node is going to be manufactured on 55.000 wafers of 300 mm size, and it is expected to reach as much as 100.000 wafers per month output by 2023. With the accelerated purchase of EUV machines, TSMC already has all of the equipment required for the manufacturing of the latest node. We are waiting to see more details on the 3 nm node as we approach its official release.

China Focuses on 3rd Generation Semiconductors in Aim for Self-Sufficiency

The People Republic of China has always released 5-year plans that have a goal of achieving something. And in the latest, 14th 5-year plan China has an eye on the semiconductor industry. Specifically, China wants to develop independence and self-sufficiency when it comes to semiconductors. With tensions between the US and China raising, it is a smart move to have domestic technology to rely on. The new plan starts next year, 2021, and ends in the year 2025. In that period, China will devote financial resources and human workforce that will hopefully enable its goal. The primary aim for this 14th plan seems to be 3rd generation semiconductor technology. What is meant by that is a technology like gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC). These technologies would be a nice addition to China's portfolio of semiconductors, so we should wait and see what comes out of it.

Alleged Prices of TSMC Silicon Wafers Appear

TSMC, one of the biggest silicon manufacturers in the world, usually doesn't disclose company pricing of the silicon it manufactures and only shares that with its customers. It appears that RetiredEngineer (@chiakokhua on Twitter) got a hold of the pricing of TSMCs wafers on every manufacturing node starting from 90 nm down to 5 nm. That includes a wide portfolio of 65, 40, 28, 20, 16/12, 10, and 7 nm nodes as well. The table shown below includes information dating to April 2020, so it is possible that some things are now different and they surely are. There are a few quite interesting notes from the image, namely the price increase as the node shrinks.

From 90 nm to 20 nm, the price of the wafer didn't increase as much, however, starting from 16/12 nm node(s), TSMC has seen costs per wafer, and other costs increase exponentially. For example, just compare the 10 nm wafer price of $5992 with the price of a 5 nm wafer which costs an amazing $16988. This is more than a 180% price increase in just three years, however, the cost per transistor is down as you get around 229% higher density in that period, making TSMC actually in line with Moore's Law. That is comparing Transistor density (MTr / mm²) of 52.51 million transistors for the 10 nm node and 173 million transistors per mm² of the 5 nm node .

Apple's Custom GPU is Reportedly Faster than Intel iGPU

When Apple announced their transition form Intel processors to Apple Silicon, we were left wondering how the silicon will perform and what characteristics will it bring with it. According to the latest report from The China Times, the Apple custom GPU found inside the new Apple Silicon will bring better performance and energy efficiency compared to Intel iGPU it replaces. The 5 nm GPU manufactured on TSMC's N5 semiconductor manufacturing node is supposedly codenamed "Lifuka" and it brings Apple's best to the table. Planned to power a 12-inch MacBook, the GPU will be paired with a custom CPU based on Arm ISA as well. The same chips powering iPhone and iPad devices will go into MacBook devices, with the TDP increased as MacBook will probably have much higher cooling capacity. The first Apple Silicon MacBook will come in H2 of 2021.
Here is the copy of a full report from The China Times below:

Samsung Announces Availability of its Silicon-Proven 3D IC Technology

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., a world leader in advanced semiconductor technology, today announced the immediate availability of its silicon-proven 3D IC packaging technology, eXtended-Cube (X-Cube), for today's most advanced process nodes. Leveraging Samsung's through-silicon via (TSV) technology, X-Cube enables significant leaps in speed and power efficiency to help address the rigorous performance demands of next-generation applications including 5G, artificial intelligence, high-performance computing, as well as mobile and wearable.

"Samsung's new 3D integration technology ensures reliable TSV interconnections even at the cutting-edge EUV process nodes," said Moonsoo Kang, senior vice president of Foundry Market Strategy at Samsung Electronics. "We are committed to bringing more 3D IC innovation that can push the boundaries of semiconductors."

TSMC to Stop Orders from Huawei in September

TSMC, one of the largest semiconductor manufacturing foundries, has officially confirmed that it will stop all orders from Chinese company Huawei Technologies. The Taiwanese silicon manufacturer has decided to comply with US regulations and will officially stop processing orders for Huawei on September 14th of this year. Precisely, the company was receiving orders from HiSilicon, a subsidiary of Huawei Technologies that focuses on creating custom silicon. Under the new regulation by the US, all non-US companies must apply for a license to ship any American-made technology to Huawei. Being that many American companies like KLA Corporation, Lam Research, and Applied Materials ship their tools to many manufacturing facilities, it would be quite difficult for Huawei to manufacture its silicon anywhere. That is why Huawei has already placed orders over at Chinese SMIC foundry.

TSMC to Manufacture Apple Silicon for Arm-Based Macs

Apple has recently announced its transition from Intel-based Mac computers to custom Arm-based Apple silicon equipped Macs. The speculations for such transition have lasted a few years and we finally got that confirmation. So the question remains: who will manufacture Apple's custom processors for Arm-based Macs? The answer is pretty simple. It is TSMC who will again become Apple's main supplier of silicon. With its broad offerings of the latest silicon nodes, it was no brainer choice for Apple. Combined with the history of collaboration with Apple, TSMC was the only choice for new Apple silicon. Whatever the company will use the new 5 nm node or use the "old" 7 nm one, the question remains.

TSMC expects to see huge orders from Apple in the second half of 2021, for Apple silicon, so Apple will become perhaps the biggest customer of TSMC. It is also worth pointing out that Apple will be using ASMedia's USB controller for Arm-based Macs, as the original report suggests.
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