Apple made it cool to design your own silicon, and these days everyone wants to play. TSMC is where most of those custom chips are made today, but with new design tools and a plethora of processes, Samsung hopes to take some more of that growing market.
Samsung’s Foundry already makes chips for the likes of IBM, Qualcomm, and Tesla, but the chaebol has greater aspirations. My colleague, Sam Tuan Wang, went to Samsung’s third annual forum in Santa Clara and was impressed to see 1300 attendees being told about a wide portfolio of technology offerings. The company appears to have covered every single even and odd node of geometry scaling from 7nm down to 3nm by 2022, and device structure is migrating from FinFET to gate all around.
But more important, in addressing the changing market, is support for the legacy technologies where a wide range of options are offered for different applications in high performance, ultra-low power, or RF. The future of semiconductor foundry is about diversification, as customers designing their own chips will have very different requirements. The winning foundries will be those that can offer a choice of processes, smaller volume, various photo layers for diversified customers.
In terms of diversification, Samsung has rapidly increased their 200mm fab capacity for foundry business in offering CIS, RF, PMIC and other technologies up to 65nm, a rare case for 200mm fabs. Also Discussed in the forum were 2.5D and 3D system-in-packaging wafer and panel level technologies, the stacking of logic wafers with memory or CMOS image sensor. Samsung is expanding its design ecosystem and increasing collaboration with EDA vendors and Azure, AWS system companies in preparing the design-in-cloud capability.
Gartner’s position on Foundry Direct is that by 2025 40% of application-specific integrated chips (ASICs) will be designed by OEMs (see How Your Business Should Realize the Benefits of the OEM-Foundry-Direct Revolution for details), so there is a significant market being created for foundries that are flexible enough to serve it.
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