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The 3-nm fab race: Samsung reportedly nears the finish line

Just a few days after TSMC provided details of its 3-nm process node at the company’s 2022 North America Technology Symposium, there are reports that fab archrival Samsung is starting its 3 nm-based chip manufacturing this week. TSMC plans to begin its 3 nm production by the end of this year.

It’s important to note that while TSMC’s 3-nm node is based on the FinFET technique, Samsung is switching to the gate-all-around (GAA) technology for this process geometry. The GAA design allows fabs to shrink transistors without hurting their ability to carry current. On the other hand, TSMC’s FinFET architecture, dubbed as FinFlex, enables chip designers to implement various fin configurations to meet performance, power, and die–size targets.

Figure 1 Samsung’s 3-nm process node is built around the GAA technology, which Samsung calls multi-bridge channel FET or MCBFET. Source: Samsung

Also worth noting is that U.S. President Joe Biden recently visited Samsung’s manufacturing plant at Pyenogtaek to see a 3-nm demonstration. Industry watchers believe Samsung is likely to manufacture its Exynos 2300 chips on the new 3-nm node and that these chips will power some of the Galaxy S23 smartphone variants.

Figure 2 U.S. President Joe Biden visited Samsung’s flagship semiconductor manufacturing facility near Pyeongtaek to see the 3 nm manufacturing technology demonstration. Source: Associated Press

Industry observers will also be keenly watching the yield of the new chips manufactured at 3-nm geometry, especially when Samsung’s 4-nm node has several yield issues. According to industry reports, Samsung is expecting its 3-nm node to bring a 35% decrease in die area, 30% higher performance, and 50% lower power consumption compared to the 5-nm manufacturing process.

Samsung taking the lead on 3-nm is an interesting development as, according to market research firm Gartner, TSMC has captured a predominant market share at 7-nm and 5-nm nodes. It will also be interesting to watch if Samsung gets a significant benefit by starting the 3-nm chip manufacturing a bit earlier than TSMC.

Majeed Ahmad, editor-in-chief of EDN and Planet Analog, has covered the electronics design industry for more than two decades.

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