Samsung is delaying next-generation chip technology until 2022

Samsung's port around transistor design

Samsung’s transistor design will not be available in processors until 2022.

Samsung foundry

Samsung had planned to start building one faster and more efficient class of processors this year, but the technically difficult shift to a major new design means the chips will instead arrive in 2022. The Korean electronics giant on Wednesday shared the schedule for the shift in conjunctino with its Samsung Foundry Forum.

The release means that customers who rely on Samsung will have to wait longer to use the leading technology. Among the biggest names using the company’s services are phone chip designer Qualcomm, server maker IBM and Samsung itself.

The good news for these customers, however, is that Samsung also announced advances in the next generation of manufacturing afterwards, a refinement that should arrive in 2025. It should deliver another step forward in chip performance, energy efficiency and electronics miniaturization, Samsung said.

Samsung’s biggest competitor in chip manufacturing, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., revealed a delay to similar technology in August. The schedule eases the pressure a bit Intel, which launches its own foundry as part of a recovery plan aimed at regain the leadership it lost to TSMC and Samsung.

The processor company is under extreme pressure. As the pandemic increases PC sales, smartphone use and online services run out of data centers, the demand for processors has exceeded production capacity. That chip shortage has hobbled sales of PCs, game consoles, cars and other products that rely on worldwide electronic supply chains.

Based on Samsung’s customer conversations, the shortage of processors will only ease in 2022, said Shawn Han, a Samsung Foundry executive vice president, based on Samsung’s customer talks. “In our view, it will take another six to nine months even if we invest and other foundry suppliers increase their capacity,” he said in a briefing ahead of the Samsung Foundry Forum.

The transition to next-generation production technology is extraordinarily complicated. Chips are made of billions of electronic components called transistors, each much smaller than a piece of dust. Chip factories, called fabs, etch the circuit patterns on silicon wafers with a process that requires dozens of steps that take months.

Progress is being made by miniaturizing transistors so that more can be squeezed onto a chip, increasing their speed and reducing their power consumption. Samsung’s next generation process, as it calls 3GAE, uses a technique called gate all around (GAA). It is an early version of the technology.

By 2023, Samsung expects to reach a high production volume with a more mature version called 3GAP. The 3 in the name refers to 3-nanometer measurement, which, although no longer directly linked to the dimensions of chip electronics, acts as a label for advances in manufacturing methods.

So in 2025, the company plans to move to another, more advanced gate-all-around technology, which it calls 2GAP. This manufacturing method will be the first of Samsung’s 2nm generation.

As chips become more complex, they often become more expensive as well, which is why many chip buyers are sticking to older, cheaper manufacturing processes from companies like GlobalFoundries.

But Samsung believes it can make the new manufacturing processes financially enticing for customers.

“Although GAA is a difficult technology, we will still strive to lower the cost per Transistor,” said Moonsoo Kang, head of Samsung’s Foundry Strategy Team. “That trend will continue.”

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