In what could be more bad news for those hoping to see an end to the chip shortage crisis, crypto mining giant Bitmain has reportedly tapped TSMC to create an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) using the Taiwanese firm’s 5nm fabrication process.
According to a report from DigiTimes (via Tom’s Hardware), Bitmain’s 5nm chip orders with TSMC will begin at the start of the third quarter before ramping up substantially in Q1 2022. The improved power-efficiency of the foundry’s N5 process would be well suited for mining, and with Bitcoin and Ethereum prices reaching record highs, demand is likely to remain high for a while.
The concern here is that Bitmain’s order could put pressure on other 5nm-based products. Right now, the biggest N5 customer is Apple, which uses the process for its A14 Bionic (iPhone 12, iPad Air) and M1 system-on-chips in the latest Macs and iPad Pros.
AMD’s Zen 4 architecture is set to be fabricated on the 5nm process node and is projected to go into production later this year. Mobile SoC companies Qualcomm and MediaTek are also expected to start using N5 manufacturing technology soon.
Exactly how much 5nm capacity Bitmain will take up is unknown. Earlier this year, analysts predicted that TSMC would increase its N5 capacity from 55,000 – 60,000 wafer starts per month to 110,000 – 120,000, so the mining ASICs may not have much impact, hopefully.
The use of the 5nm is good news for Bitmain’s products as it could improve their performance and efficiency. The company’s upcoming Antminer E9 Ethereum mining box boasts a 3 GH/s hash rate—the equivalent of 32 RTX 3080 cards—at 2,556W.