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Samsung Leads Chip Industry with Nanochip Production

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Samsung Electronics claims a world first as it plans to start production of chips using a new nanosheet transistor architecture at the industry-leading 3nm process node.

The world’s second-largest chip foundry implemented the nanosheet technology, also known as gate-all-around (GAA), leading top rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which aims to adopt the technology for production in 2025. TSMC plans to kick off production of 3nm chips later this year.

Nanosheet technology promises to exceed performance limitations of FinFET, the current 3D-chip process used by Samsung and TSMC at the 7nm and 5nm nodes. Nanosheet is expected to improve power efficiency by reducing chip supply voltage levels, while also enhancing performance by increasing drive-current capability.

Samsung will initially use the nanosheet architecture to produce chips for high-performance, low-power computing applications followed by mobile processors, the company said in a press statement.

“We continue to demonstrate leadership in applying next-generation technologies to manufacturing, such as foundry industry’s first high-K metal gate, FinFET, as well as EUV (extreme ultraviolet lithography),” said Siyoung Choi, president of Foundry Business at Samsung Electronics. “We will continue active innovation in competitive technology development and build processes that help expedite achieving maturity of technology.”

From left: Michael Jeong, Corporate Vice President; Ja-Hum Ku, Corporate Executive Vice President; and Sang Bom Kang, Corporate Vice President at Samsung Foundry Business hold 3nm wafers at the Samsung Electronics Hwaseong fab. (Source: Samsung) (Click image to enlarge)

Quest for PPA

Samsung said it has developed nanosheets with wider channels, which enables higher performance and greater energy efficiency compared to rival GAA technologies using nanowires with narrower channels. The company expects to adjust the channel width of nanosheets in order to optimize power usage and performance to meet various customer needs.

GAA is expected to yield power, performance, and area (PPA) benefits. Compared with 5nm, Samsung said the first-generation 3nm process can reduce power consumption by up to 45%, improve performance by 23%, and reduce area by 16%. The second-generation 3nm process will reduce power consumption by up to 50%, improve performance by 30%, and reduce area by 35%, according to the company.

GAA performance and power benefits (Source: Samsung) (Click image to enlarge)

Improving EDA With SAFE Partners

Since Q3 2021, the company has provided design infrastructure through its Samsung Advanced Foundry Ecosystem (SAFE) partners including Ansys, Cadence, Siemens, and Synopsys.

“We congratulate Samsung on this 3nm GAA production release milestone,” said Tom Beckley, senior vice president of the Custom IC & PCB Group at Cadence. “Cadence worked closely with Samsung Foundry to enable customers to achieve optimal power, performance, and area for this node using our digital solutions from library characterization to full digital flow implementation and signoff.”

For Samsung, the 3nm generation is a chance to narrow the gap with TSMC. In the advanced 7nm and 5nm nodes, TSMC had more than 90% of the market in 2021, according to market research firm Gartner.

Samsung is the first to adopt nanosheet technology, but that has scared customers such as Qualcomm and Nvidia away to TSMC on concerns about execution risks, according to Bernstein analyst Mark Li. Commercializing new technology with predictable quality, yield, and hence cost and volume requires a careful judgment on readiness and execution capabilities, and that is where TSMC differentiates, according to Li.

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