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Thread: Are chips at the 7-nm and lower nodes required for 5G or the new i phones?

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    Are chips at the 7-nm and lower nodes required for 5G or the new i phones?

    I am familiar with some of the technology in manufacturing at the 7-nm technology node, but I would appreciate your comments regarding the suggested necessity for some applications. I have seen instruction "books" describing how to use everything in the new Apple i phones, but please tell me if you think it would be possible to have all of these features without 7-nm? Would such a phone require a much larger size? I have also heard contradictory opinions as to whether 7-nm requires more or less battery power. Lastly, it has been claimed that the Snapdragon 855 with their 7-nm CPU is "primed for 5G, AI and more" but do you regard the 7-nm devices to be necessary or even essential for 5G? Thank you.

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    I wouldn't say it's a hard requirement, but adding functionalities like 5G and AI to a chip consume lots of transistors and in order to fit them all in you are either going to need a larger chip that consumes more power, or smaller transistors. Furthermore, the cost per transistor has trended to be lower as the transistors are made smaller (although this is less true today than it has been in the past), so there is an economic reason to move to 7nm as well. (I believe foundry 7nm still has a lower cost/transistor than foundry 10nm but I might be wrong).

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    The question is meaningless because "required" is a meaningless term. No-one NEEDS a faster phone by some dogmatic interpretation of "need", but a faster phone is nice. No-one NEEDS longer battery life, but longer battery life is nice.
    The new iPhone is noticeably faster than my iPhone 7, and provides noticeably longer battery life (at least the way I use it). It probably could not achieve those without 7nm.

    The way you phrase the question is silly. The question that matters is "Can 7nm provide an experience that is better for new phones [and other devices] than 10nm" and the answer is clearly yes, given that faster and lower power can always be turned into a better experience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mhagmann View Post
    I am familiar with some of the technology in manufacturing at the 7-nm technology node, but I would appreciate your comments regarding the suggested necessity for some applications. I have seen instruction "books" describing how to use everything in the new Apple i phones, but please tell me if you think it would be possible to have all of these features without 7-nm? Would such a phone require a much larger size? I have also heard contradictory opinions as to whether 7-nm requires more or less battery power. Lastly, it has been claimed that the Snapdragon 855 with their 7-nm CPU is "primed for 5G, AI and more" but do you regard the 7-nm devices to be necessary or even essential for 5G? Thank you.
    It's a good question. When designing a semiconductor, specifically an SoC,you have a power and density budget. Believe me, designers would love to build larger and more powerful chips but in mobile devices it is very constricted. So no 7nm is not essential for 5G and AI but you will get a better performing chip and as a result a better software experience. It reminds me of a question from the PC era. Bill Gates did a keynote and said hardware will always constrain software. Andy Grove from Intel did not agree but I think Bill was proven right, especially in the mobile era. The better the chip the better the software can be, absolutely.

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    Now available in print or Kindle: "Mobile Unleashed: The Origin and Evolution of ARM Processors In Our Devices"

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    The power savings for each new node are getting smaller and smaller compared to the previous one, even though the transistor cost is still falling because of increased density. So a lot of applications nowadays are skipping nodes (or "half-nodes") to get a big enough power/cost saving to justify porting/redesign -- for example going from 14/16nm to 7nm. This is where 5nm will get *really* interesting...

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