Qualcomm moves to 10nm process for flagship Snapdragon 835 chip

The semiconductor industry continues to toy with the laws of physics as Qualcomm and Samsung unveil 10 nanometer FinFET process technology for the next Snapdragon chip.

The process technology refers to the size of each individual transistor inside a chip. The smaller the transistor the more you can fit into a given sized piece of silicon and thus the more processing power you can cram in.

A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or a millionth of a millimeter, or the size of a water molecule – i.e very small. The physics can become very awkward at these sizes due to things like electrical leakage, so as well as having to be very clever in the manufacturing process itself, this continued shrinkage also involves significant innovation in the materials used.

The first chip to benefit from this technology will be the Snapdragon 835, which looks set to be the SoC in many of next year’s flagship smartphones, offering around 30% more performance efficiency than the 820, which is manufactured on the 14nm process.

It will be manufactured by Samsung Electronics’ foundry, which announced the 10 nm process in the middle of October, when all anyone was interested in was the exploding Note 7. Incidentally Qualcomm announced its latest quick charge technology, called Quick Charge 4, which will be incorporated into the 835. Qualcomm will presumably have spent a lot of the last month making sure it doesn’t have the same violent effect on batteries as Samsung’s equivalent. Neither company, apparently, spent much time on their canned quotes.

“Using the new 10nm process node is expected to allow our premium tier Snapdragon 835 processor to deliver greater power efficiency and increase performance while also allowing us to add a number of new capabilities that can improve the user experience of tomorrow’s mobile devices,” said Keith Kressin, SVP of product management at Qualcomm.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to work closely with Qualcomm Technologies in producing the Snapdragon 835 using our 10nm FinFET technology,” said Jong Shik Yoon, head of the foundry business at Samsung. “This collaboration is an important milestone for our foundry business as it signifies confidence in Samsung’s leading chip process technology.”

What will determine the success or failure of the Snapdragon 835 will be whether it is selected for the Samsung Galaxy S8. Qualcomm missed out on the S6 and that led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth in San Diego. The presence of an alternative quick charge technology might also make the 835 more likely to feature in whatever Samsung creates to resurrect the Note phablet brand.

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