Chips on top at CES 2021

On the heels of a slew of exciting CES 2021 IC news, TSMC, the world’s top contract IC maker, says it plans to grow its capital investments nearly 50 percent in 2021 to a whopping $28 billion, due to exploding demand for “advanced chips.”

As noted in this WSJ report, TSMC’s added investment amounts to “at least a 47 percent year-over-year increase.” A recent post at Reuters suggests that “demand for advanced chips to power premium devices [which] is expected to continue to surge as 5G technology and artificial intelligence applications are adopted more widely.” CNBC’s report on TSMC’s most recent earning call states that TSMC currently “has more than half of the worldwide market for contract-manufactured chips, including a strong hold on advanced chips.”

Much of the growth at TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Mfg. Co.) has come as Arm Ltd’s chip IP, which powers nearly all smartphones, had a major media moment last year with Apple’s announcement of its upcoming “Apple Silicon” SoC for the Mac, which will be based on Arm-licensed IP and manufactured by TSMC.

Apple’s first “Apple Silicon”
(click image to enlarge; source:

Together, Apple and Arm Holdings reportedly have secured 80 percent of TSMC’s 5-nm capacity for 2021. To scale for that growth, Arm, in turn, has invested heavily in new engineering.

Chipmakers can license Arm’s full chip designs, or just the instruction set architecture (ISA) used by software to communicate with the Arm chips, an approach that lets chipmakers design their own customized processors, reports Cnet’s Stephen Shankland. As noted by Apple fansite, Apple plans to position the Mac’s new customized Arm ISA-based processor as Apple Silicon, rather than just another Arm-based chip.

In other recent semiconductor related news from CES 2021…

  • AMD… will be offering more mobile and desktop gaming chips, as part of its Zen 3 CPU architecture initiative, claiming its Ryzen 5000 series chips to be the “fastest processors in the world for gamers and creators.” The company said to expect to see these chips in 150 laptop models, with both Acer and Lenovo revealing the chips in their latest products.
  • Intel… announced a long list of chips now available that ran across multiple use cases — spanning business and education to gaming, with most of the emphasis on new mobile CPUs built on the company’s long-delayed 10nm technology. The company’s other big news was a new CEO: Pat Gelsinger, who is known for talking over the reigns at VMWare and EMC. ZDnet takes a look at Gelsinger’s return to Intel taking the helm where he had spent the “first 30 years of his career were in engineering and executive positions at Intel, growing to become Intel’s first chief technology officer and to lead Intel’s biggest business unit.”
  • Nvidia… disclosed additional details about their fast-selling Ampere design that was announced on the CES stage last year. Nvidia is emphasizing chips for laptops and lower price points for their gaming cards which was accomplished by their bringing the RTX 30 series Ampere design to laptop graphics. Nvidia says the new chips are twice as energy efficient as its prior generation of mobile chips and offer improved performance, pointing to the chips being available in more than 70 laptop models. Tom’s Guide has a great look at all the speeds and feeds here.
  • Qualcomm… announced several chip designs, but its big news was the acquisition of server chip designer Nuvia, for approximately $1.4 billion. Qualcomm said the acquisition of Nuvia’s CPU and technology design team will help the company “meet the demands of next-generation 5G computing.” The company was founded by Apple veterans and is a customized design based on an Arm ISA license, similarly to Apple’s new custom processor.
  • Samsung… also debuted a high-end mobile offering for 2021: its Exynos 2100 mobile chipset. It’s the company’s first 5nm chipset, and and its first to integrate a 5G modem that supports both mWave and sub-6GHz. The new Arm-designed chip will be used in Samsung’s new Galaxy phones and offers major power consumption benefits, notes Engadget.

Impact on the PC market?

How will these recent IC announcements impact the PC market? For a perspective, check out PC Magazine’s CES 2021 take on this question here.