Samsung could begin mass production of 3nm chips as soon as this week

In context: Back in May, US President Joe Biden visited Samsung’s Pyeongtaek campus and was shown a bleeding-edge factory that will operate on a 3nm process node. Industry insiders expect the Korean giant to announce the start of volume manufacturing in the coming days, beating rival TSMC in the quest to produce the world’s most advanced chips yet.

Samsung has great ambitions for its semiconductor arm and it’s a key part of its $205 billion plan to conquer chip making, robotics, artificial intelligence, and biopharmaceuticals. No less than half of those funds will go towards advanced chip factories and the research and development of new process nodes and new transistors.

However, the Korean tech giant has had a lot of yield issues in moving to smaller process nodes that have affected some of its biggest clients such as Qualcomm, which is now considering TSMC for future mobile chips. Nvidia is going with TSMC for its next-gen products after dealing with yield problems and relatively low energy efficiency with Ampere GPUs, which are built on Samsung’s 8nm process node.

With a rejuvenated Intel led by Pat Gelsinger, competition is intensifying in the semiconductor manufacturing arena. Samsung needs to beat others in the race to commercial 3nm manufacturing or else it won’t be able to attract large customers like Nvidia, AMD, Apple, and others. TSMC says it will begin ramping up volume manufacturing on a 3nm process in the coming months, so the window of opportunity is rather small.

Samsung knows this and has been scrambling to catch up with TSMC’s schedule. But while the company did plan to start the production of 3nm chips by the end of this month, that timeline may have been a little too optimistic. In April, Samsung Foundry executives told investors that commercial manufacturing would begin in a matter of weeks, but we have yet to see an official update on that matter.

Reports from local media in South Korea reveal that Samsung is preparing to announce the start of 3nm volume manufacturing, possibly as soon as this week. This would be a great show of force against rival TSMC, and it’d also mean that the Korean company will be the first to use gate-all-around field-effect transistors (GAAFET).

Samsung calls its implementation of 3 nm GAAFET transistors multi-bridge-channel field-effect transistors, but this is just a technical name for transistors that need 50 percent less power, take 45 percent less space, and can operate more stably at very low voltages.

The rumor mill whispers that Samsung has also secured its first customers for the new process node, so it will be interesting to see if the company is able to avoid a repeat of its 8nm and 4nm mistakes. Either way, the foundry business is a strong contributor to Samsung’s bottom line, with over half of its operating profit — some $6.7 billion and change — coming from the chip division.

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