In a significant milestone for the semiconductor industry, Samsung today announced that it is now manufacturing 7LPP chips: processors based on extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) and a 7-nanometer manufacturing process. Beyond this specific accomplishment, the company notes that it is providing customers a clear path to future 3-nanometer chips.
Samsung’s announcement completes EUV’s evolution from “impossible dream” to “commercially impractical” to reality — a process that has required decades of research and multi-billion-dollar investments by chipmakers. EUV uses incredibly thin ultraviolet lasers to etch chips, enabling creation of a silicon wafer layer using a single mask, rather than up to four masks required by the more common argon fluoride process. Industry experts expect EUV to be critical in making 5-nanometer and 3-nanometer chips, enabling further miniaturization in next-generation consumer and industrial devices.
Chips made using the 7LPP process will deliver multiple advantages over prior-generation 10-nanometer FinFET processors. Samsung says that 7LPP chips will be able to trade off either 50 percent lower power consumption or 20 percent higher performance, while achieving an up to 40 percent increase in area efficiency. In other words, smaller 7nm chips could lead to smaller batteries and/or faster devices.
Another major advantage — albeit one consumers will only see indirectly — is enhanced quality in the 7LPP parts. Using the traditional argon fluoride process, chip-making at such a tiny scale can yield parts with a greater number of imperfections, in some cases degrading performance and in other cases requiring chips to be discarded entirely. Using EUV will increase yield rates and speed manufacturing, potentially lowering prices — if and when EUV’s tremendous up-front investments are paid off.
Massive challenges in commercializing the EUV process have stifled smaller chipmakers, and even some large ones, leaving Samsung and rival TSMC in an expensive race to use it first. But while TSMC led the chip industry in commercializing 7-nanometer chips, manufacturing the A12 Bionic processors in Apple’s 2018 iPhone XS and XR models, Samsung is the first to use the EUV process to make 7-nanometer chip wafers. As chips shrink to 5-nanometer and 3-nanometer sizes over the next several years, the companies will fight for business from Apple and other consumer product makers.
“With the introduction of its EUV process node, Samsung has led a quiet revolution in the semiconductor industry,” said Samsung EVP Charlie Bae. “This fundamental shift in how wafers are manufactured gives our customers the opportunity to significantly improve their products’ time to market with superior throughput, reduced layers, and better yields. We’re confident that 7LPP will be an optimal choice not only for mobile and HPC, but also for a wide range of cutting-edge applications.”
Initial EUV production has commenced in Hwaseong, South Korea at Samsung’s S3 Fab facility, potentially for components to be used in Samsung-branded products. The company expects to have another EUV lineup by 2020 to supply customers with high-volume manufacturing and says that 7LPP parts will be used in applications that include 5G and AI, plus next-generation automotive components, datacenters, networking, and internet of things (IoT) sensors.