Samsung Foundry Faces Challenges in 3nm Process: Yield & Efficiency Concerns

Samsung Foundry

Samsung Electronics Foundry Division, a major player in semiconductor manufacturing, is grappling with significant hurdles in its 3nm process technology. Despite declaring the start of 3nm mass production three years ago, Samsung’s first-generation 3nm node (SF3E) has fallen short of expectations in both yield and efficiency. This struggle has implications for the company’s market share and competitiveness.

Yield and Efficiency Issues

Industry experts point to poor yield and power efficiency as the primary challenges faced by Samsung Foundry’s 3nm process. While the company emphasizes power consumption control and heat management, its performance still lags behind TSMC, a key competitor. TSMC’s chips offer superior power efficiency, a critical factor given the growing demand for AI services in mobile and server markets.
Samsung’s 3nm process, based on gate-all-around (GAA) technology, promised significant advancements over its 5nm predecessor. However, the reality has been disappointing. The first-generation 3nm chips have struggled to achieve satisfactory yields, limiting their adoption to niche markets like cryptocurrency mining. The Exynos 2500, developed by Samsung System LSI Division and produced through Samsung Foundry’s 3nm process, also faces yield-related challenges.

TSMC’s Dominance

TSMC, on the other hand, has secured orders from major tech giants like Google and Qualcomm for their next-gen 3nm chips. Google’s upcoming flagship chipset, Tensor G5, will be manufactured by TSMC, signalling a shift away from Samsung Foundry. Qualcomm, too, is considering dual-sourcing by partnering with both TSMC and Samsung Foundry, but TSMC remains the primary focus.
The choice for TSMC boils down to performance. Despite TSMC’s higher production costs for 3nm chips, the significant performance difference justifies the investment. TSMC’s chips not only outperform Samsung’s in terms of power efficiency but also exhibit better overall yield rates.

Heat Management Challenges

Heat issues in semiconductors have intensified with the rise of AI applications. For mobile chips, excessive heat can compromise smartphone structures, affecting reliability and longevity. In server chips, heat generated by one server rack can spread rapidly, potentially causing overload across the entire server farm.

TSMC’s edge in power efficiency contributes to its dominance in the foundry market. The company’s relentless focus on heat management has paid off, ensuring stable performance even under demanding workloads. Samsung Electronics, despite its efforts, faces an uphill battle in closing this gap.

Looking Ahead

Samsung Electronics aims to address these challenges by introducing Backside Power Delivery (BSPDN) technology in its 2nm process. BSPDN promises to be a game changer, significantly improving power efficiency. Initially planned for commercialization after 2027, Samsung has decided to expedite the adoption of this technology, aiming to start mass production of the 2nm process either next year or by 2026.

In summary, Samsung Foundry’s struggle with yield and efficiency underscores the fierce competition in semiconductor manufacturing. As the industry evolves, companies must innovate and overcome technical barriers to maintain their position in the market.

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