Smaller and Smaller
Samsung Electronics is getting nervous at the news that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) will start testing the mass production of a 10-nanometer FinFET process next year. Just like Samsung’s strategy last year of successfully securing orders from Apple and Qualcomm by bypassing the 20-nanometer process and going straight to a 14-nanometer process, the TSMC is also thought to be skipping 14 nanometers and going direct to a 10-nanometer process.
According to local media reports in Taiwan on July 8, the TSMC will start risk production in its 10-nanometer processing lines in the second quarter of next year and mass production as early as the second half of next year. From this period, the company will also discuss cooperation in earnest with its largest customers, Apple and Qualcomm.
Risk production is practically the final phase of testing, and the process to raise the yield rates for full-scale mass production. For memory semiconductors, a company can sometimes actually sell some general-purpose products that have gone through risk production. For system semiconductors, however, it can take more time to mass produce, since they should fit within the standards of graphics processor units (GPU) and modem chips.
Once the 10-nanometer foundry process is adopted, the clock rates of application processors (AP) will improve up to 20 percent, and power consumption will drop as much as 40 percent, compared to existing 14-nanometer FinFET processes.
Industry watchers say that the TSMC could take an advantageous position to win orders for Apple’s next-gen “A10” AP for the iPhone before its competitor Samsung Electronics, if the TSMC breaks through the phase of risk production before its competitor. It means that whichever company that stabilizes its 10-nanometer process first will win the contract.
At the moment, the TSMC is a step ahead of Samsung Electronics. The company has invested US$1 billion (1.14 trillion won) in order to introduce its 10-nanometer process, as it fell behind Samsung Electronics in the 14-nanometer FinFET process race and lost major customers, including Apple.
In contrast, Samsung Electronics announced in April during the result announcement conference call that its 10-nanometer foundry process is possible from the end of 2016, and there is still no change in the plan. The company is planning to expand its market share first of its existing 14-nanometer FinFET process.
However, the possibility cannot be ruled out that Samsung Electronics will move up the mass production date, as the amount of supply to Apple will decide the performance of Samsung’s System LSI division. Notably, the company unveiled an actual 12-inch wafer using its 10-nanometer process in May, which was an unusual move for the company.