Samsung dreams of 2nm chips in 2025, 1.4nm by 2027
Mass production, too – and if it happens, timing will be crucial as semiconductor market recovers
Samsung expects to have 2nm chips in mass production by 2025 and plans to deliver mass production using a 1.4nm process by 2027, aiming to expand the capacity of such advanced process nodes "by more than 3X."
The plans were detailed by the Korean electronics giant at its annual Samsung Foundry Forum event in San Jose, California, where the company said that it will continue targeting high-performance and low-power semiconductor markets such as HPC, automotive, 5G, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Earlier this year Samsung started up mass production using its 3nm process technology, claiming at the time to have beaten rival TSMC to the punch. It will be enhancing its gate-all-around (GAA) transistor architecture in order to deliver its 2nm process in 2025 and start production using a 1.4nm process by 2027.
However, TSMC is hot on Samsung's heels, announcing a couple of months ago that it planned to start volume production of 3nm silicon using its N3 process in September. TSMC also expects to start production of its N2 2nm process in 2025.
Meanwhile, Samsung outlined how it would need to take steps to be able to meet anticipated customer requirements, including process technology optimization for specific applications and customized services.
"The technology development goal down to 1.4nm and foundry platforms specialized for each application, together with stable supply through consistent investment are all part of Samsung's strategies to secure customers' trust and support their success," said president and head of Foundry Business Dr Si-young Choi.
Of its optimization plans, Samsung said it will enhance its GAA-based 3nm process support for HPC and mobile, while further diversifying its existing 4nm process specialized for HPC and automotive applications.
For automotive customers, Samsung is currently shipping embedded non-volatile memory (eNVM) solutions built with 28nm technology. By 2024, the company plans to add 14nm eNVM solutions to the mix, with 8nm eNVM already in the pipeline for the future.
The electronics giant also said it intends to expand production capacity for the most advanced process nodes by following a "Shell-First" strategy for investment. This will entail building cleanrooms first, no matter the market conditions, which will then allow for fabrication equipment to be swiftly installed in line with demand at a later date.
Samsung said that by 2027, it aims to have expanded production capacity by more than three times compared with this year, and it was hoped that the new build strategy will allow it to better respond to market demand.
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The company's senior vice president, Moonsoo Kang, told attendees that Samsung aims to triple its revenue from contract manufacturing using its foundries within the same time frame.
Samsung's foundry production lines are currently in five locations: Giheung, Hwaseong, and Pyeongtaek in Korea, and one in Austin, Texas, with another under construction in the nearby city of Taylor.
Samsung's plans come as the semiconductor industry is facing a downturn, with device makers cutting orders in response to slackening consumer demand as the economic outlook worsens.
Richard Gordon, practice vice president for semiconductors and electronics at Gartner, told us that total semiconductor market growth for 2022 will be in low single digits driven by a crash in memory pricing (DRAM and NAND) caused by weakened market demand in PCs and smartphones.
"We are already seeing pull-backs in announced capex as semi companies (especially memory) try to throttle back output. This will slow the addition of new fab capacity as vendors try to align it to a recovery in the market beginning in 2024 and accelerating in 2025," Gordon said.
This recovery should align with Samsung's introduction of 2nm chips, if the company is lucky enough to time it just right. ®