Being one among South Korea’s largest vertically built-in chaebols (a big industrial conglomerate ran and managed by a person or household in South Korea), Samsung can make investments extra money in its semiconductor enterprise that just about some other firm and undertake main course of applied sciences forward of everybody else. However that does not imply that Samsung is a know-how chief in producing logic chips or reminiscence. In reality, it’s lagging behind TSMC, Intel, and Micron in terms of efficiency and value.
Samsung spent $93.2 billion on increasing its semiconductor manufacturing capability for its reminiscence and foundry divisions over the 2017–2020 interval, greater than Intel and TSMC invested. As well as, the corporate spent billions on researching and growing new course of applied sciences. Due to excessive spending, Samsung Foundry and Samsung Semiconductor had been the primary to undertake excessive ultraviolet (EUV) lithography for logic manufacturing in 2018 and DRAM manufacturing in 2021.
However utilizing the newest lithography instruments doesn’t suggest that the corporate’s foundry, reminiscence, and chip improvement companies are assured to thrive. In reality, a Samsung DRAM engineer mentioned is a weblog put up that the corporate’s controversial company tradition could be a cause why its semiconductor companies have confronted troubles lately, reviews DigiTimes.
EUV lithography is supposed to scale back multi-patterning, improve yields, lower cycle instances, whereas finally growing efficiency and decreasing prices. However Samsung Foundry has did not get many extra prospects with its 7LPP, 5LPE, and 5LPP fabrication applied sciences. The corporate’s solely large EUV win was touchdown orders from Qualcomm. Against this, Nvidia solely used Samsung’s 8LPP node, a extremely superior 10nm-class know-how that solely makes use of deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography.
Prior to now 12 months or so rumors emerged that Samsung’s 4nm yields had been low and the node had not fairly lived as much as expectations. Like different contract makers of semiconductors, Samsung Foundry doesn’t touch upon yields, to some extent as a result of they’re its commerce secrets and techniques for itself and its prospects. When Qualcomm moved manufacturing of its Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC from Samsung Foundry’s 4nm-class know-how (4LPE or 4LPP) to one among TSMC’s N4 nodes, it might improve its clocks and on the identical time lower its energy consumption (i.e., considerably improve efficiency per watt), which demonstrates that 4LPE/4LPP is considerably much less aggressive than its direct rival at the least from efficiency per watt standpoint. One factor to remember right here is that Samsung Foundry’s 4nm household of producing processes are the corporate’s third technology EUV node and primarily based on the truth that it’s behind a competing know-how, we will draw some unfavorable conclusions about precise capabilities of Samsung’s 7LPP, 5LPE, and 5LPP.
One of some oblique confirmations about inadequate modern yields at Samsung Foundry was revealed again in April, when Samsung’s LSI division advertising and marketing chief pre-announced yield enhancements for flagship SoCs.
“Within the second quarter, we anticipate our SoC provide to develop considerably led by yield enhancements for flagship SoCs and the addition of mid-range merchandise to our lineup,” mentioned Kenny Han (through Searching for Alpha).
In latest weeks there have been rumors that yields of chips made utilizing Samsung Foundry’s 3GAE node (3nm-class, gate-all-around transistors, early) didn’t meet expectations too, however contemplating that the corporate’s ‘early’ nodes are normally used virtually solely by the agency’s LSI division and the latter barely shares all the small print with third events, we do not know tips on how to confirm the rumors even unofficially. Formally, Samsung solely says that it had applied a brand new circulation to hurry up time-to-yield ranging from its 3nm-class nodes.
“We now have improved the node improvement system from 3nm,” a consultant for Samsung mentioned. “We really now have a verification for every stage of improvement. This may assist us scale back the yield ramp-up interval in a while, enhance our profitability and in addition guarantee a stabler provide.”
Provided that semiconductor firms are expert in retaining their secrets and techniques (and Samsung might be extra secretive than many others), we will solely surprise concerning the causes behind Samsung Foundry’s allegedly poor yields. Usually, firms fail after they set themselves too bold or too mediocre objectives. With Samsung Foundry’s 7nm and extra superior nodes, the corporate made a wager on utilization of EUV and to deploy it in 2018 it needed to introduce quite a lot of proprietary applied sciences and manufacturing strategies (e.g., as not utilizing pellicles on photomasks, which could have an effect on yields).
Against this, TSMC didn’t use EUV instruments for its N7 node in 2018 and solely supplied EUV layers with its subsequent N7+ know-how in 2019 after hiccups of the unique course of have both been solved or at the least recognized in addition to when EUV instruments matured. TSMC is understood for its relatively conservative method to course of know-how improvement in addition to utilization of recent instruments, which supplies numerous predictability to its prospects. Predictable benefits (even when they aren’t dramatic) together with predictably excessive yields are maybe the explanation why TSMC has landed orders from know-how giants like Apple and AMD which have completely different techniques in terms of adoption of recent course of applied sciences.
However Samsung’s foundry division was not the one enterprise unit to place large bets on EUV. Samsung Semiconductor shipped the primary check DRAM chips made on its D1x, an EUV-enhanced course of, to its prospects in early 2020, however the know-how has not been used for high-volume manufacturing. As a substitute, Samsung’s DRAM enterprise unit began to ship reminiscence chips made utilizing its D1a node (which makes use of EUV instruments for 5 layers) in late October, 2021.
Samsung’s D1a is the corporate’s 4th Technology 10nm-class DRAM node, also called 13nm. Improvement of this node took the corporate fairly some time, leaving it behind each Micron (which began delivery 1a-based DRAM ICs in June, 2021) and SK Hynix (which initiated manufacturing of 1a DRAMs in July, 2021).
Micron intends to make use of its 1a fabrication know-how (which doesn’t use EUV in any respect) for every type of DRAM it ships and has already broadly deployed this node, in response to media reviews. Consequently, Micron not solely overwhelmed Samsung to punch with its 1a course of, but in addition left it behind with the tempo of its adoption. Consequently, Micron’s reminiscence is cheaper to make, which is especially useful in terms of DDR5 ICs which can be bodily bigger than DDR4 chips of the identical capability and produced on the identical node.
Over time, Samsung could regain management due to its intensive expertise with EUV-based DRAM course of applied sciences, however for now the corporate doesn’t appear to be main the sport. Apparently, Micron sees utilization of EUV instruments as a drawback due to EUV scanner prices, restricted productiveness of EUV tools, imperfect essential dimension (CD) uniformity, and longer cycle instances.
In a bid to leapfrog the competitors, Samsung intend to skip 1b course of know-how and refocus to 1c (11nm) as an alternative, in response to the DigiTimes report that cites the engineer. This info was denied in April, however plans have a tendency to alter.
“I believe it is truthful to say that our 12nm improvement plan is being carried out stably, and the next nodes would even be developed in response to our mid- to long-term know-how roadmap,” a consultant for Samsung mentioned.
However Samsung has a bonus over Micron, SK Hynix, and TSMC. It sells far more than reminiscence chips and semiconductor manufacturing providers. It sells all types of shopper electronics, together with smartphones that value over $1,000 per unit or televisions that value considerably extra. Due to this fact, even when its yields should not as excessive and its prices should not as low, Samsung nonetheless stays worthwhile.
However the issue with mediocre nodes and yields is that they have an effect on the efficiency and capabilities of Samsung’s personal system-on-chips (SoCs), which can fail to satisfy expectations. That is what occurred with the Exynos 2200, which wasn’t quicker than Qualcomm’s Snadragon 8 Gen 1 made utilizing the identical course of know-how.
Whereas Samsung can spend fortunes on its semiconductor companies, this does not assure its success. Prior to now couple of years, we’ve seen numerous direct and oblique proof that the corporate’s semiconductor companies are struggling. Samsung Foundry’s contract manufacturing enterprise is just not rising as quick as that of its rivals, whereas its nodes are falling in need of expectations. Samsung Semiconductor was a number of months behind its rivals with its 1a DRAM fabrication course of, whereas the efficiency of Samsung’s LSI flagship SoCs is decrease in comparison with its rivals.
Like different big firms, Samsung may be very sturdy and has sufficient monetary, mental, and technological assets to outlive loads of challenges. The one drawback is when this occurs and whether or not the present administration of the corporate is as much as the duty.