At a time when most of the smartphone chipsets are made using 7nm node, Unisoc recently launched the world’s first 6nm chipset which was manufactured by TSMC using extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUVL). However, other companies are not much behind.
Samsung, the world’s second largest chipset maker after TSMC, has already started mass production of 6nm and 7nm EUV (Extreme Ultraviolet) chipsets. Now, the company has announced that it plans to start mass production of 5nm chipsets.
The company has also added that it will continue to invest in advanced processes as well as GAA 3nm process. The Samsung V1 facility located in Hwaseong, South Korea, is the one where the production will take place. It is a specialised facility with state-of-the-art technology and is capable of production of chipsets as small as 3nm.
There are reports claiming that Google has partnered with Samsung for a custom Exynos chipset which is scheduled to release this year. The 5nm chipset is expected to feature an octa-core CPU consisting of two Cortex-A78 cores, two Cortex-A76 cores, and four Cortex-A55 cores. The graphics will be taken care of by an unannounced Mali MP20 GPU based on Borr microarchitecture. It is also said to include Google’s own Visual Core ISP and NPU instead of Samsung’s.
A couple of months ago, it was reported that Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor manufacturing division won a contract to make new Qualcomm 5G chips using . This is a major boost for the company to aims to rival TSMC.
To get a lead among its competitors, Samsung was set to start mass production of 3nm chipset from 2021 but it seems that the company is now forced to delay the manufacturing launch of this new process till 2022, mainly because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
It is reported that the coronavirus has hampered Samsung’s ability to fulfil the scheduled installation of equipment for the new production lines. The 3nm process from Samsung is based on the Gate All Around (GAAFET) technology rather than FinFET. It supposedly reduces the total silicon size by 35 percent while using about 50 percent less power.
It also allows for the same amount of power consumption and 33 percent performance increase over the 5nm FinFET process. The GAAFET design differs from the FinFET design as it is built around having gates around four sides of the channel, which ensures reduced power leakage and improved control over the channel.
Samsung Electronics is expected to establish a full-scale 5-nm mass production system at the end of this year or early next year. In April last year, Samsung Electronics completed the development of EUV-based 5-nm process technology. V1 Line is expected to roll out Qualcomm’s X60 5th-generation mobile communication modem chips.
TSMC of Taiwan has already established a 5-nm mass production line. It is predicted to begin mass production of Qualcomm’s X60 chips next month. If it does begin volume production of 5-nm semiconductors in April, it will be the first company to succeed in mass production of chips using a 5-nm EUV foundry process.
Samsung Electronics and TSMC are competing not only to become the first to start volume production of 5-nm chips but also to be the first to develop a 3-nm process, which is more advanced. Samsung Electronics is determined to take the top spot in the global foundry industry. This year, it will speed up the development of a 3-nm process. The company presented a long-term vision of investing about 133 trillion won in order to be the top player in system semiconductors by 2030.
In response, TSMC also began to make large-scale investments in the development of a 3-nm process. The company announced a plan to execute US$15 billion for research and development and recruit more than 4,000 additional personnel.
“In addition to the development of technology to take the lead in the semiconductor micro-fabrication process market, competition to start mass production first to receive orders for the latest products is getting fiercer,” an industry official explained.
Samsung announced its financial results for Q1 2020 earlier today, and a part of the announcement mentioned the company’s plans to start the mass production of 5nm chips in Q2 2020 using its EUV (Extreme Ultraviolet) process. This is a pleasant surprise since industry experts were expecting that the South Korean semiconductor giant would not be able to start the mass production of 5nm chips until the fourth quarter of this year.
It is being reported that Samsung could start producing 5nm-based Ampere chips for Nvidia. The GPU brand is expected to launch its next-generation GPUs later this year. However, a lot also depends on the COVID-19 situation, and there could be further delays. Samsung also announced in its press release that it would start focusing on the development of the GAAFET-based 3nm process node this year.
The next-generation Exynos SoC (System on Chip) for Samsung’s flagship smartphone might most probably use the 5nm EUV fabrication process. Even Apple’s and Qualcomm’s next-generation processors are expected to be based on TSMC’s 5nm technology.
Samsung competes with Taiwanese firm TSMC in the semiconductor market, and the former is currently at the backfoot. TSMC has already started mass producing 5nm Apple A14 SoCs for the iPhone 12 series. The South Korean firm wants to defeat TSMC as it can then bag chip orders from the likes of Apple and Qualcomm, who are currently contracting chip production to TSMC.