Results of 2020. Technologies and developments that have changed our devices – key events

In this article, we will try to outline the technologies that have become available in commercial devices that have changed our understanding of the comfort of using electronics. Discussing this material with friends, when his idea was just born, I came across an emotional perception: “What can I say, almost nothing changes, the changes are scanty and do not deserve attention, what are you going to write about?”. In response, he asked to bend his fingers and began to list what could be considered important for the market and the development of electronics next year, at some point he simply stopped. If for specific commercial products the pandemic played a negative role, since the factories were standing, there was a shortage of components, then with technologies it was exactly the opposite, the investment and development cycle was so long that the influence of the pandemic was leveled, and we did not feel the influence of this factor. For convenience, I will divide the text into small chapters, since it is appropriate here, we will discuss each development separately.

Content

5nm process technology and the first processors from Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung
ARM-based computers, Apple’s MacBook line
AI algorithms, tensor and scalar computing
Flexible Smartphone Screens – From Experiment to Mass Products
Displays with a high refresh rate – 120 Hz as a mainstream product
The TV is turned into the center of a smart home and a computer
New modules for cameras – 108 megapixels
Other technologies – 5G, Wi-Fi 6E, fast charging and more

5nm process technology and the first processors from Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung

We are accustomed to the fact that improving the technological process for processors brings benefits in several aspects – speed of work, less power consumption, less heating with an increase in the clock frequency of fast cores. This development path allows keeping the processor architecture plus or minus unchanged and achieving growth in other characteristics. It is clear that no one leaves the architecture unchanged, it also changes, they move to a different arrangement of cores, different software and hardware solutions. But even without that, the improvement in processor performance when going from 10nm to 7nm or from 7nm to 5nm would be noticeable.

The transition to the 7 nm process technology took place in 2018, at the end of the year solutions from Apple, Huawei, and later from Samsung appeared. In 2020, manufacturers are switching to the 5 nm process technology, the first was the Apple A14 Bionic processor. Huawei’s HI Silicon is temporarily out of the race, their 5nm processor is ready, but the company cannot produce it due to US sanctions. Samsung is not in a hurry as usual, just like Qualcomm offers its solutions (Snapdragon 888 as the first processor with such a technical process) in the first quarter of 2021.

The gain from the transition to 5 nm is obvious, the devices work longer with the same or smaller battery size, which is very conditional for the consumer, since the entire set of characteristics must be taken into consideration. For manufacturers, the development of processors for a new process technology costs a pretty penny. Look at the sign from IBS, it clearly shows how costly everything has become.

Therefore, it is impossible to expect that processors made according to this technological standard will become available in the mass segment, 7 nm processors are just arriving there, and these are models of the middle price segment. With the introduction of 5 nm for the mass market, there is exactly the same problem, production should develop gradually, the equipment should pay off, and this period will be 1.5 times longer, at least compared to 7 nm.

In the technology race, the next stop is 3 nm, and all major players are guided by this process technology. Intel plans to launch factories with 3 nm only in 2025, but TSMC will begin mass production of them in 2023. Samsung plans to produce 3 nm from the end of 2021 (there is also 4 nm). The race continues at full steam, and the results will be interesting for us, because depending on the readiness of the 3 nm process technology, this or that company will be able to get ahead and show performance gains in synthetic tests in their processors. For some buyers, this is important, since they are not comparing real performance in tasks where all subsystems of devices are involved, but virtual parrots.

Qualcomm is likely to migrate to Samsung’s 3nm in 2022 to keep its chipsets growing at a fast pace. In 2020, one of the highlights in the smartphone market was the PR campaign against Samsung’s Exons processors, which called them slow, bad and unstable compared to solutions from Qualcomm. A lot of articles, videos, in which it was “proved”, adjusting the result to the required one. By the middle of the year, the apotheosis of the campaign happened, when, with reference to mysterious sources, it was claimed that Samsung had closed the R&D center that deals with processors, in the future there will be no Exons, since it is so bad and the company admits it. In fact, everything is exactly the opposite: Samsung is investing billions of dollars in this area, building new factories, actively selling Exons to other manufacturers, primarily Chinese companies.

ARM-based computers, Apple’s MacBook line

The processor is the heart of any device, and the British company ARM is developing the architecture of the same name, it is used in completely different devices – phones and smartphones, tablets, watches and now computers. As part of the trade war, the United States wanted to acquire ARM, but the deal stalled, since no one in the world wants one country to control key technologies, this is a threat to everyone.

The Wintel bundle (Windows and Intel x86 processors) came under threat a few years ago, when Microsoft began actively developing Windows for ARM, such laptops even appeared on the market. Five years ago, they were shown under glass at exhibitions, showed a record-breaking operating time. But the first models were not very successful, as they worked rather slowly and were inferior to similar Intel machines. The flaws were removed, the new ARM processors saved the operating time, but at the same time turned out to be fast. Due to the complexity of the transition to such solutions in the camp of Microsoft, they did not force development, these were experimental models of laptops, it was impossible to call the market a mass one.

Apple decided to change everything, since the transition to the ARM-architecture provides a minimum of $ 100-150 savings on the cost of the processor. It’s extra efficiency, money to pocket. At the end of 2020, the company introduced the M1 processor to the market, which showed excellent results in synthetic tests (these are three computers at once – Mac Mini, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro).