The transition to 20nm has been anything but fast and much of the industry has been stuck at 28nm for a while, but the first 20nm products are coming as we speak.
TSMC’s 20nm process is almost ready for prime time, but volume production is still a couple of months away. However, some outfits do not need great yields and huge volumes and one maker if bitcoin mining ASICs says it will become the first outfit to ship 20nm products this week. Sweden-based KnCMiner received the first batch of 20nm Neptune ASICs earlier this week and it says it should start shipping finalized mining rigs by the end of the week.
Most ARM-based SoCs and practically every GPU on the market today are 28nm designs. The first 20nm SoCs should arrive by the end of the year, courtesy of Qualcomm and possibly Apple. Nvidia and AMD were expected to introduce 20nm GPUs sometime in the second half of 2014, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that we won’t see them until a bit later, with volume production slated for 2015.
The KnCMiner Neptune is a relatively big chip, with 1440 cores in a 55x55mm package, but there is no word on die size. The miner will use five chips and churn out 3TH/s while consuming 2.1KW. Although KnCMiner does not talk about the foundry, it appears that we are looking at TSMC silicon. However, this does not mean we will see mainstream chips manufactured on the new node anytime soon.
Cryptocurrency mining is a relatively small niche and many miners are willing to take big risks and pay through the nose for the latest kit in an effort to gain an upper hand in the mining hardware arms race. Mining ASICs don’t require great yields or big volumes, as the designers can operate with much higher margins than consumer chip outfits.
It is a risky space that has already seen a number of spectacular flops, but the promise of quick cash and downright ridiculous ROI is still attracting a lot of (greedy) risk takers. As a result there is a lot of demand and pre-orders are the norm.
Regardless of the controversy surrounding this very risky industry, it is hard not to be impressed by KnC’s feat, as the company states it has managed to beat big chipmakers to 20nm – and it has, albeit in a very tight niche.