Samsung’s been struggling with its 4nm GAA process for some time now, and recent rumors suggest that TSMC has won the contract to manufacture Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor because Samsung can’t meet their yield rate demands.
But it looks like things are even worse than that, as a new report from The Bell states that the Korean manufacturer’s 3nm GAA node is struggling with yields much more than its 4nm counterpart. Will they be able to make enough chips to get orders from other major customers like Apple and Xiaomi? Or will they continue to struggle?
We’ve heard several rumors over the past few months that Samsung’s 3nm process is struggling, with poor yields, particularly when it comes to producing integrated circuits.
With poor yields being a factor for its 4nm node and now a reportedly low yield rate for its 3nm process, could we be looking at another case of Exynos woes? Even worse news for Samsung fans would be if one of their rival fabs got orders from Qualcomm.
We’re talking about TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company), which has recently announced its own 10nm FinFET process. Is TSMC poised to overtake Samsung as Biggest Rival in IC Production? The latest report suggests that Samsung’s 3nm process will struggle to get orders from Qualcomm.
The company had previously been expected to provide chips based on Samsung’s 7LPP technology, but will instead turn to TSMC. This is likely due to Samsung failing to deliver working samples on time.
It was reported earlier in June that Samsung had failed to meet expectations for its advanced-node production capabilities, according to sources familiar with Apple’s supply chain.
It was said at the time that Apple may have even delayed production of certain chips until next year because of these issues. So, with all of that being said, what does all of this mean for Samsung’s 3nm process? Well, not good things… At least not yet.
If Samsung can somehow fix whatever issue they are having with their 3nm process soon enough then they should be able to get some more business from Qualcomm – may be enough business to prevent any delay in launching new Snapdragon 855 devices later in 2019.
Samsung 3nm density
Circuit density is an important feature in semiconductor manufacturing, especially when it comes to high-performance chips and devices. Not only does a high density provide more space for transistors, but it also offers higher performance as a result of more contact points between each circuit node.
The flip side of that equation is that density also makes chips more susceptible to faults in production (known as defects), resulting in reduced yields. The 3nm GAA node from Samsung has proven particularly difficult on account of its extreme density and so far has not been able to produce enough functional circuits at a yield that would justify orders from Qualcomm or other companies.
For example, Samsung’s 3nm process technology can achieve up to 1302mm2 die size and 564 MTP per mm2 (1 MTP = 1 million transistors per mm2). TSMC’s 7nm process achieves just slightly less density than Samsung with 1300mm2 die size and 538 MTP per mm2.
However, TSMC’s 7nm process is much easier to work with because it requires less defect repair work. Samsung claims their 3nm technology can handle 32 layers of copper interconnects compared to TSMC’s 20 layers at 7 nm nodes.
Samsung 3nm vs tsmc 3nm
In other words, Samsung’s 3nm process has a much worse yield rate than TSMC’s 4nm process. It is no wonder that TSMC will continue to be the exclusive provider of Samsung’s 14nm products for smartphones and likely for its flagship SoCs as well.
As long as Samsung’s 3nm production problems aren’t resolved soon, it will struggle to get orders from Qualcomm, which wants its 7nm production from TSMC. This is not good news for Samsung Electronics since it will lose money on mobile processors if it continues its exclusive relationship with TSMC and loses orders from Qualcomm due to a lack of volume shipments.
Samsung’s 28FDS fabrication process does have one big advantage over TSMC’s 16FF+ process, though. Samsung uses an immersion lithography technique called multiple patterning (MP) to increase resolution without sacrificing throughput.
While multiple patterning technology allows Samsung to make chips at least twice as fast as those made by competitors using traditional double patterning technology, yields are still lower than competing technologies like TSMC’s EUV-based N7+.
If Apple were willing to use multiple patterning lithography in its A12 chip designs, then Samsung would have an advantage over TSMC in manufacturing Apple’s custom A-series chips.
A Smarter Manufacturer Would Have Stayed at 28 nm
Not all fabs are created equal. Foundries, such as TSMC and Samsung, differ in how they create their chips. As they get smaller with each generation (such as Samsung’s GAA node), more problems arise.
Instead of staying at 28 nm, which is where other manufacturers have started making newer chips (like TSMC’s 7-nanometer process), Samsung decided to take a shortcut and move straight to 10 nm.
This new generation gives higher speeds than before at lower power consumption—but only when it works properly. When moving from one manufacturing technology to another, there are always going to be growing pains.
But if you want your company to stay ahead of its competitors and make sure that you don’t lose orders, then you need to make sure that your products work well on their first outing. A smarter manufacturer would have stayed at 28 nm until it had perfected its 10 nm process.