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Samsung starts building 3nm smartphone chips in Korea

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We’re slowly moving toward the size constraints of our Universe, but before we get to that Planck volume, there’s still some wiggle room. This means smaller, faster and more efficient chips in our smartphones of tomorrow.

Let’s put quantum physics behind us and go straight to the news (feel free to discuss Planck constants in the comment section below). after TSMC has published its roadmap, shedding light when we can expect 3nm and 2nm chips now Samsung has announced the start of production of its 3nm semiconductor chips at its Hwaseong plant in South Korea.

Samsung is switching to a new architecture, in which FinFET (fin field-effect transistor) is exchanged for GAA (Gate All Around). And if you’re worried about more physics coming your way, just take a breather. GAA offers several advantages over FinFET – the main one being higher energy efficiency.

Another new technology involved in Samsung’s 3nm manufacturing node is the fabrication of nanosheet transistors. It replaces the nanowire technology, which in this case again increases the efficiency and also the performance. The use of nanosheets gives the possibility to adjust these efficiency and performance parameters very easily by simply changing the size of the nanosheet.

Samsung quotes some impressive numbers and compares the new 3nm node with the old 5nm manufacturing process. The new chips should offer 23% better performance, 45% less power consumption and 16% less surface area, and this is just the first generation of 3nm silicon.

The second generation provides a significant 50% increase in energy efficiency, 30% better performance and 35% less surface area. Here’s a little inspirational quote from Dr. Siyoung Choi, President and Head of Foundry Business at Samsung Electronics:

“Samsung has grown rapidly as we continue to show leadership in applying next-generation technologies to manufacturing, such as FinFET, the foundry industry’s first High-K Metal Gate, and EUV. We want to continue this leadership with the world’s first 3nm process with the MBCFETTM. We will continue active innovation in competitive technology development and build processes that help accelerate technology maturity.”

The Korean company is also working to enable customers to design their chips faster and easier. Samsung’s SAFE ((Samsung Advanced Foundry Ecosystem) will provide partners who want to design their 3nm chips using the new technology.

The first 3nm smartphone processor to leave the factory will most likely be the next-generation Exynos 2300 (S5E9935 codename Quadra). The jump to GAA and 3nm could rehabilitate Exynos processors, which are not very popular with smartphone enthusiasts and lag behind their Qualcomm counterparts. Samsung teamed up with AMD to try and turn things around (the Exynos 2200 is armed with the new Xclipse GPU based on AMD RDNA 2 architecture), but this partnership has yielded mixed results so far.

With TSMC raising the prices of its manufacturing processes, it’s also very interesting to see how Samsung would play its cards on that front. If the new 3nm node in Samsung’s factories turns out to be cheaper, it could swing the pendulum again. On the other hand, don’t expect the following Galaxy S23 with Exynos on board is cheaper than the Qualcomm variant, because it has no marketing sense.

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