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What are the differences between 12 nm and 14 nm processor? The nanometer of a processor simply refers to the manufacturing process and has got nothing to do with the physical measurement of the chip.
The nanometer is just a pure marketing number and not a measure in any way. It was created deliberately by the marketing people at the GlobalFoundries.
However, the 14 nm manufacturing process signifies the MOSFET technology node.
It is the successor to the 20 nm or 22 nm node and it was named thus by the ITRS or the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors.
The 12 nm processor on the other hand are those where the processor manufacturers follow the 12 nm technology.
Now, does that mean the 12 nm and 14 nm processors are just the same? Well, no.
Though there is a fair bit of confusion among the consumers regarding these different process nodes, this article will however clear all your doubts, if you too mix them up often.
The 5 Differences Between 12 nm and 14 nm Processor
1. Transistor Density
The 12 nm process nodes offer denser arrangement of the transistors in it in comparison to the 14 nm processors.
In fact, the 12 nm process nodes of the GlobalFoundries offer a transistor density of 36.7 MTr/mm² or Millions of Transistors per Square Millimeter and that of the TSMC it is 33.8 MTr/mm².
On the other hand, the 14 nm process nodes usually come with fewer transistor counts.
For example, the 14 nm process nodes of Samsung or GlobalFoundries contain 32.5 million transistors, which is quite less than the 12 nm processors.
2. Manufactured By
Typically, the 14 nm processors are manufactured by either Intel, Samsung or GlobalFoundries.
On the other hand, the 12 nm process node will most likely belong to the AMD Ryzen 2000 series.
The GlobalFoundries also produces their 14 nm version but that is typically licensed from Samsung.
3. Power Consumption
Since the transistors are closely packed in a 12 nm processor, the electrons have to move a shorter distance and therefore the consumption of power for that matter is pretty less.
On the other hand, the power consumption of the 14 nm processor is a bit higher than the 12 nm processors because the transistors are less closely packed which increases the distance to be traversed by the electrons.
4. Heat Generation
Related to the power consumption typically, the heat dissipated by the 12 nm processors is also quite low.
On the other hand, the heat dissipated by the 4 nm processors is relatively higher than the 12 nm processor for the same reason.
5. Clock Speeds
The clock speed, which is also dependent on the distance between the transistors, is a bit higher in the case of the 12 nm processors.
On the contrary, in the 14 nm processors, since the transistors are not so close, the clock speed is a bit lower than the 12 nm processors in general.
Which is Better – 12 nm or 14 nm Processor?
Now, before finding out which among the 12 nm processor and the 14 nm processor is the better, there are a few facts that you should know about the two different manufacturing processes in isolation.
First of all, you will be surprised to know that the actual sizes of the 12 nm fabrication process of the GlobalFoundries are 64 nm of minimum metal pitch and 78 nm of contacted gate pitch, which is exactly the same measurement of their 14 nm fabrication process.
Well, this single fact may make you think that none of the two is better but then, considering the differences between them above it may not be unjust to consider the 12 nm processors to be a bit better than the 14 nm processors.
As such the smaller nm processors are usually better in the terms of power consumption, heat generation, and clock speeds.
Since the transistors in a 12 nm processor are packed more closely in comparison to a 14 nm processor having a smaller die size, the data transfer speed is more in a 12 nm process node.
This also makes this processor a more powerful and efficient one.
On the other hand, if you consider the 14 nm processors, so far, these are being used in the 5th generation processors and above by Intel in particular.
Whether it is a Coffee Lake or a Broadwell, it is the same technology in all.
However, in a few specific aspects the 14 nm fabrication technology of Intel outperforms the 16 nm and even the 12 nm process technology of TSMC or Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company or the 14 nm processors of Samsung.
Talking about Intel, the company has also introduced 14 nm+, 14 nm ++, and even 14 nm +++ processors due to the delay in their 10 nm process node, but these are just simple refinements of the 14 nm manufacturing process.
In general, there are miniscule improvements in power consumption and performance but there is no real shrinking of the die size.
If you want to make a choice between a 12 nm processor and a 14 nm processor, you will get about 15% performance boost in the 12 nm processors of the GlobalFoundries along with 10% improvement in transistor density.
The use of the Zen + architecture in the AMD Ryzen 2000 series in particular has helped the 12 nm node of the GlobalFoundries a lot.
And, if you consider their 14 nm node, it is actually a technology licensed from Samsung.
Talking about Samsung, their 14 nm node is, no doubt, one of the most popular and widely used fabrication processes used in the NVIDIA GeForce 10 series, in particular.
These processors come in multiple variants such as 14 nm LPE or Low Power Early and 14 nm LPP or Low Power Performance.
Usually, lower nm in CPUs means it is better because the length of the drain to source, which is also referred to as the gate length, of every MOSFET or Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor has a lower value.
The lower is the nm value the more closely the MOSFETs in the chip will be packed.
This makes the chips with a lower nm value more powerful, complex and efficient.
The power dissipation in each of the transistors is also reduced due to the lower channel length which, in turn, produces less heat as well.
The smaller nodes with more transistors produce superior performance at similar power consumption or same output at lesser power consumption.
Therefore, all these give the 12 nm processors that slight edge over the 14 nm processors but, before you choose it for you, there are a few caveats that you should also take into account during your selection process.
Do not think that the processor is better simply for the reason that the silicon is better.
The design can be completely different because different fabs typically follow their individual way of designating.
For example, the 14 nm process nodes of Intel contain 43.5 millions of transistors per square millimeter of area which is quite high as compared to other 14 nm fabrication processes of most of the other manufacturers such as Samsung and GlobalFoundries.
And, there are new generations of processors that also come with other unique optimizations.
Therefore, even if you stick to any particular manufacturer of processor, do not look at the nodes simply on their own.
It will not be sufficient to make the right decision in the end.
And finally, it may not be always useful to compare two different process nodes in terms of their performance simply based on the clock speeds unless the two are of the exact same model.
This is because the higher clock speed of a new node usually is difficult to have and it also takes much longer time to mature than staying with the same.
Therefore, after discussing both the processor types from different perspectives, it can be said that the most significant advantage of the 12 nm nodes is that the traces in them are a bit thinner than on a 14 nm node.
This offers higher clock speeds putting it one step ahead of the 14 nm variants.
So, coming to the end of the article and with the differences between a 12 nm and a 14 nm processor known now, you can very well conclude that it is the CPU clock frequency only that translates into performance.
In general, a smaller feature size and transistor offers a faster clock frequency.