At a press conference, the president of Samsung's semiconductor arm declared that the company's profits should improve soon once it starts using its next-generation process technology. Samsung is expected to build chips using its 14nm FinFET (3D transistors) process for companies such as Apple, Qualcomm and AMD by the end of next year, which is right around the time Apple is supposed to launch its A9 processor.
The 14nm process should bring 35 percent less power consumption and have 20 percent increased performance with a 15 percent smaller die area. It's getting more expensive to build chips on newer and smaller process nodes, and one way to reduce the cost of the chips is to reduce their size, even if that means a lower increase in performance.
This year, Apple is already using the 20nm process from both Samsung and TSMC, although it's only using Samsung's foundry for 30 percent of the A8 chips. According to ZDNet Korea's sources, it looks like Apple will use Samsung's foundry almost exclusively for the 14nm process next year.
TSMC should have its 16nm FinFET process ready by then too, but for some reason Apple doesn't seem as excited about it. It's doubtful that the difference between 14nm and 16nm processes made Apple decide to go only with Samsung. Knowing Apple, however, it's possible the company thinks that difference can be an impactful one from a marketing point of view.
It's interesting to see that both Qualcomm and AMD will be Samsung's customers, too. Qualcomm will switch to 20nm just half a year before going to 16nm, so it was slightly unlikely the company would switch to a smaller node so soon, but that's exactly what Qualcomm needs to do if it wants to stay competitive. Going with 28nm as early as it did for Snapdragon S4 (back in 2012) helped the company a great deal in the popularity of its chips, which quickly beat Nvidia's 40nm Tegra 3 in energy efficiency and performance.
Over the last few years, AMD has seen a decrease in revenue, market share and even some relevance in the market, with the majority of notebook customers preferring Intel-based machines. While Intel has gotten to that point through a combination of more advanced micro-architecture designs that perform better than AMD's CPU, being roughly a generation and a half (22nm Tri-gate vs 28nm planar) ahead of AMD in process technology has also made it much easier for Intel to keep that advantage. New processes can greatly reduce the power consumption of a chip compared to the previous generations.
Going with 14nm FinFET almost at the same time as Intel (which won't have that many 14nm Broadwell chips in the market until close to mid-2015 anyway) could help AMD recover some of its image in the notebook market by becoming much more competitive with Intel's chips.
Nvidia also promised to move to TSMC's 16nm FinFET process as soon as possible, at least for its next-generation Tegra chip, so late next year we should see some very interesting comparisons between all of these companies' processors.