Samsung Foundry soon to commercialize 6nm process to rival TSMC's 7nm process

Jun 27, 2017

Samsung's chip making company known as Samsung Foundry happens to be one of the company's lucrative arms. The foundry has as its rival the Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and both manufacture mobile phone chips for fabless chipmakers who don't own a Semiconductor foundry like Qualcomm, MediaTek, Spreadtrum (whose chips the Tizen-powered Samsung Z-series use), Huawei's Hisilicon and several others. TSMC recently announced that it had devised a means of manufacturing chips based on a 7nm process which uses a smaller sized wafer compared to the 10nm process currently in use by latest flagship chips like Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 chip and MediaTek's Helio X30. The Taiwan-based company had also indicated that it was ready to start receiving orders from patrons for 7-nanometer chips. This move has spurred Samsung Foundry to begin production of 6-nano chips in a bid to outsmart TSMC.

The 6-nanometer process will be based on the nm technology but the width of the electrical wiring will be much thinner. The smaller 6nm process will also have an edge over the 7nm due to its lower cost of production due to smaller areas of chips. In addition, performance and electrical efficiency will be improved. The 6-nano chips will go into mass production by 2019.

In addition to the 6-nanometer chip, Samsung is also planning to respond to the ground it lost to TSMC in the 7nm process with a new 8nm process which is only a minor upgrade over the 10nm chip. Samsung will still produce chips using the 7nm process but the tech giant realises that it cannot compete with TSMC due to the amount of inventory received from customers already, many of whom already chose TSMC. Thus, the Korean giant chose to focus its attention on the production of 6-nanometer chips. Already, TSMC skipped using the 10nm process due to Samsung's dominance on the 10-nano process. The company will only produce chip using the 10nm process for Apple's next-gen iPhone 8. Instead, the Taiwan company jumped right to the 7nm process which is looking like a smart move.

Samsung will use Extreme Ultra Violet Lithography to etch the circuit design on the silicon wafer and to this end, the company has decided to bring in 2 ASML NXE3400B, which is a next-generation EUV (Extreme Ultraviolet) stepper, this year and by 2018, that figure will rise up to 7. Experts in semiconductor production believe Samsung can reduce production cost and areas of chips by utilising EUV equipment from parts of the 7-nano process. This due to the fact that light wavelength of EUV is short (13.5nm) and so it can engrave 7-nano circuit pattern at once. This is perhaps the reason why Samsung has decided to bring in next-generation exposure equipment to its 7-nano mass-production lines.

On the contrary, TSMC’s first 7-nano process does not use EUV equipment. Instead of that, it utilises immersion equipment with higher limit of resolution by utilizing ArF (Argon Fluoride) excimer laser that has light wavelength of 193nm and immersion technology. Due to non-usage of EUV equipment during the 7-nano process, there will be the need to apply quadruple patterning technology that performs multiple exposures on certain processes. This cumbersome process increases production cost due to longer process time. TSMC's second 7nm process will, however, use EUV equipment but that will enter production in 2019.

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