Samsung has issued updates for its own foundry roadmap and processes, making it an excellent time to revisit what the company is planning to roll out in the next few years. The foundry industry has been rocked in recent weeks by GlobalFoundries’ announcement that it would leave the leading edge and focus instead on building out its legacy node business and on niche offerings for IoT, automotive, and RF via its FD-SOI technology, marketed as 22FDX and 12FDX. That leaves just three companies — Samsung, TSMC, and Intel — competing for future semiconductor designs. What will Samsung bring to the table?
Samsung will first roll out an 8nm node based on its 10nm technology, Anandtech reports. This node, dubbed 8LPU (Low Power Ultimate) will focus on chips that require both a high clock and high transistor density. The tweaked node can deliver 10 percent improved die area (at the same complexity) or 10 percent lower power consumption (at the same frequency and complexity). 8LPU is intended as a stepping stone for customers who want a larger advantage than Samsung’s 10nm currently offers, but who can’t afford or don’t have access to the company’s 7nm technology.
And speaking of 7nm (and by extension, Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography, or EUV), Samsung is also piloting production of its own 7nm chips, though only for self-use. 7nm LPP, which uses EUV, isn’t being offered to other customers yet. The reason we refer to overall EUV production as limited, however, is because right now, the only EUV capacity the company has to offer has been installed at Fab S3, in Hwaseong, South Korea. The technology will only be used for limited features at first and only for select customers, including Samsung Electronics and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 5G SoC.
EUV usage will be expanded over time at the dedicated EUV fab line that Samsung is building, but that facility isn’t expected to be completed until 2019, with HVM in 2020. But even as Samsung is scaling up EUV to HVM in 2020, it wants to offer new 5nm and 4nm nodes for risk production in 2019. By 2020, it wants to have a 3nm GAA (Gate All Around) solution in risk production. That’s a full year earlier than previously estimated. But the implication of this is that 5nm may be a follow-up from 8nm without EUV, while Samsung’s 4nm is an EUV-capable continuation of its 7nm. Both 5nm and 4nm will use FinFETs, but they’ll be the last Samsung nodes to do so before transitioning to GAA (Gate-All-Around).
As always with foundry plans, I recommend reading them with an eye towards the phenomenal difficulty of node transitions. Samsung is playing a confident hand by moving GAA and 3nm technology both in by nearly a year, but anyone can make a slide deck. Actually delivering these nodes is far more difficult, and the recent problems at both Intel and GlobalFoundries speak to an underlying truth: As it becomes harder and harder to transition between nodes, delays are going to happen. This is not to suggest that Samsung won’t execute its roadmap, but that we shouldn’t be surprised (or read too much into it) if the company’s timeline slips in some particular. Having aggressively pulled 3nm and GAA in, it wouldn’t be surprising if they wind up pushed back out.
As for EUV, Samsung’s remarks strengthen our own argument from earlier this week. EUV is an important technology and it matters to the foundry business, but it isn’t going to roll out all at once, and even a delay from Intel on its own deployment to correspond with a later process node may not have much impact on relative product strength. What will ultimately matter is how much Intel is using EUV for manufacturing when it does deploy it, relative to wherever TSMC and Samsung are in their own respective ramps at that time.
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