A news agency in Korea is reporting Samsung is about to make a major announcement. The world’s second-largest silicon foundry will reportedly enter mass production of its 3nm process next week. In doing so, Samsung becomes the first global foundry to reach this milestone in advanced node production. It notably beats its main rival TSMC to the punch, as the Taiwanese powerhouse isn’t expected to ramp 3nm until later this year. Intel will reach 3nm sometime in 2023 with its Intel 3 process.
The move by Samsung marks its transition from FinFet to Gate-All-Around (GAA) transistors. It’s the first major foundry to make the switch. The company says it will allow for a 45 percent reduction in chip area compared with FinFet. It will also allow for 30 percent more performance and will require 50 percent less power. Samsung has been developing its 3nm process for some time now and even showed it to President Biden recently. However, reports indicated it was suffering from poor yields. This is expected when developing a new process node. Still, it was reported it was only getting between 10 and 20 percent yields at 3nm previously. If it’s moving into mass production, also called high volume manufacturing (HVM), it has probably made strides on this front.
Samsung first revealed its 3nm plans way back in 2019 when it said it was in the Alpha stage. The company announced it had chosen Nanosheets as its preferred design. This is one of the two GAA designs that are possible; the other is Nanowires. Samsung’s design is called MBCFET, which stands for Multi-Bridge Channel Field Effect Transistor. Interestingly, when it announced its plans it trumpeted a 35 percent boost in performance. However, the latest reporting has lowered that number by five percent. Still, this reporting it not an official Samsung announcement, so that might change if and when Samsung officially announces it.
One thing to note here is just because Samsung is the first foundry to reach HVM at 3nm doesn’t mean it necessarily has a leg up on its competition. As we reported previously on an article about TSMC, some analysts believe customers might not want to be first in line for a brand new, radical change such as GAA transistors. Instead, they might be more inclined to stick with “old” 3nm technology from TSMC, which is sticking with FinFet for its 3nm process. As we reported earlier this week, it’ll be using a new configurable design called FinFlex. This lets customers customize the design on-die for various benefits such as power consumption, performance, and chip size.
Since Samsung builds chips that its customers must integrate into their own products, it’ll be a little while before we see actual 3nm products for sale. Still, it’s an exciting development to see a company the size of Samsung finally move beyond FinFet for the first time. The agency report also states Samsung is in the early stages of its developing its 2nm process as well. That won’t be coming online until 2025, however.
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