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Samsung to Manufacture Ultra Violet 7nm Chips in 2017

Even though we continuously hear rumors and statements that the pace of Moore’s Law is slowing down or stopping (last one came from Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder and CEO Nvidia Corporation), the speed of progress in semiconductor industry isn’t slowing down.

14nm is getting traction not just by high-end chips from Intel, AMD, Nvidia, Apple, Samsung and other large players, but also by smaller companies which are moving to revolutionize the way how we build virtual reality glasses, cars, infotainment systems, TVs and many other. FinFET transistors are moving to replace Planar, resistive memory technologies such as ReRAM plan to succeed NAND Flash and SDRAM etc. Still, there is one major technology barrier we need to pass in order to get to the next generation of semiconductors: Extreme Ultra Violet Lithography or UEV.

Coming today is a big technology breakthrough announcement from Samsung Electronics. World’s largest semiconductor manufacturer announced today that they’ve purchased the NXE3400 tool from ASML, Netherlands-based semiconductor equipment manufacturer. While the name NXE3400 probably doesn’t mean anything to 99% of our readers… it will change our world.

ASML EUV Roadmap; NXE3300, NXE3350, NXE3400

NXE3400 is an EUV lithography tool, enabling Samsung Electronics to start manufacturing seven nano-meter (7nm) chips in the fourth quarter of 2017. Samsung was the first to manufacture 10nm SDRAM memory chips, while TSMC was first out the door with A11, an 10nm logic processor for Apple. Now, Samsung Electronics is pushing to be the first manufacturer in 7nm with their own memory and logic processors.

The company is adopting a ‘limited risk process initialization’ – LRPI approach, where the first 7nm EUV chips will come on 200mm (eight inch) wafers, targeting small fabless companies which are willing to take the risk of being the first, before committing high-volume 300mm wafer lines to process technology which was deemed ‘impossible’ just a few years ago.

Samsung is deploying a process originally developed by a joined task force between AMD, GlobalFoundries, IBMand Samsung, thus we estimate GlobalFoundries will be the second foundry to offer EUV to mass market, followed by Intel and TSMC. The level of investment into EUV is huge, and requires a multi-billion dollar commitment from the semiconductor manufacturer such as Samsung. For example, in 2015, ASML installed trial equipment which managed to reach 1,000 wafer starts per day, accelerating to 1500 wafer starts per day earlier this year. During a four week test, Samsung and ASML produced over 15,000 wafers and is currently analyzing the results. According to our sources, Samsung Electronics used SRAM and ARM Cortex-A53 libraries. We do not know if any of the cores/cells worked during this trial run but 7nm and Extreme Ultra Violet are getting closer by the day.

  • memister

    Since nxe 3400 is not available yet, what they’re printing with EUV now is pretty useless.

    • While the NXE 3400 is not available yet, tool manufacturers work hand in hand with the wafer manufacturers. And they’re all working together with the Center for EUV in Albany. Let’s hope TSMC can catch up, but they shipped first volume 16nm practically a year after Samsung delivered revenue 14nm products. For 10nm, SDRAM is out already, and let’s wait and see will it be TSMC or Samsung or Intel out the gate with 10nm logic.

  • gc9

    IBM sold their old chip foundries, but their research department is still strongly involved in process development, with a 3G USD budget

    • Would not call a sub-20nm process node “old chip foundry”. We could argue that the chip packaging facility in Canada was of the ‘older type’, but it still produced bazillion chips for heavy duty use – automotive, aerospace, military etc. IBM is still heavily involved in Center for Extreme Ultra Violet, and after all, they’re an East Coast firm with corporate headquarters not too far away from Albany. One just does not go away. But the article discusses where the EUV chips will be made.

      • Eddie Battikha

        What happened with PS4 Pro not getting a Zen Lite Cpu?

  • memister

    ASML doesn’t make 200 mm EUV tools. What is Samsung smoking?

    • BorderGuard

      It is the author’s ignorance, not the company’s.

  • Buck Rogers

    Understanding how foundries name their process nodes: Intel’s 10nm versus TSMC 10nm and beyond

    “The answer lies in the fact that Intel’s naming standards and TSMC’s naming standards are drastically different. Intel’s processes use the same backbone as the advertised node (a 14nm process will use a 14nm backbone) while as all pure play foundries use a mixture of process technologies. TSMC’s 16nm FinFET tech for example uses a 20nm backbone (BEOL). So it is almost a certainty that they will be using a 14nm BEOL for their ’10nm finfet’ node.

    Let me explain a bit further, the process names that foundries use have now become more or less marketing material and not accurate physical descriptions of the node (except maybe in the case of Intel). Simply marketing a node as 7nm FinFET or 10nm FinFET does not make it a true 7nm or 10nm node respectively. I think the most relevant benchmark in this case (in my attempt to explain the point) is that of the Transistor Gate Pitch. This is the measure which is usually a very good indicator of the “true” node that a foundry might be using.”

    So when Globalfoundries, samsung and TSMC claim they have a 7nm it’s more like 14nm. Sorry. I wish it were true too but, it’s not their 7nm is more like 14nm.