Samsung beats TSMC to the 3nm process finishing line

The semiconductor arm of Korean tech giant Samsung is the first to start manufacturing chips using the 3nm process node.

The measurement originally referred to some dimension of each individual transistor but it seems to mainly be a marketing, rather than technological, term these days. What it does signify is that the basic component of a chip has been made an order of magnitude smaller, which has implications for power efficiency, performance and overall chip size.

‘Optimized 3nm process achieves 45% reduced power usage, 23% improved performance and 16% smaller surface area compared to 5nm process’, declares the Samsung announcement. 5nm was previously the cutting-edge process, which only Samsung and Taiwan’s TSMC offer. Getting to the next major milestone seems like a significant win for Samsung in its foundry rivalry with TSMC, although the latter is presumably not too far behind.

“Samsung has grown rapidly as we continue to demonstrate leadership in applying next-generation technologies to manufacturing, such as foundry industry’s first High-K Metal Gate, FinFET, as well as EUV,” said Dr. Siyoung Choi, President and Head of the Foundry Business at Samsung Electronics.  “We seek to continue this leadership with the world’s first 3nm process with the MBCFET. We will continue active innovation in competitive technology development and build processes that help expedite achieving maturity of technology.”

As everyone knows, MBCFET stands for Multi Bridge Channel Field Effect Transistor. One of the main objectives of the various types of FET technology is to overcome the physical challenges of trying to marshal electricity in such minuscule environments. Electrons have a habit of slipping between silicon atoms unless extreme cleverness is employed to constrain them, you see.

How significant all this is in the great scheme of things is hard to tell. At the very least it’s a welcome reminder that there are viable alternatives to TSMC in these times of geopolitical and supply chain tension. Maybe we’ll see major customers such as Apple and Qualcomm seek to diversify their foundry exposure a bit more as a result. The next process shrink is called 2nm, by the way, and they seem to come along every 2-3 years, so that’s something to look forward to.


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