Samsung’s 3nm Yield Under 60%

Samsung Facing Challenges with 3nm Yield Rate

According to South Korean media outlet DealSite, Samsung Electronics is facing concerns over the yield rate of its 3nm process, which is currently hovering around 50%, still below the target of 60%.

Since Samsung announced the mass production of the 3nm process in June 2022, reports on its yield rate have been conflicting. In May 2023, Samsung claimed a yield rate of 60-70%. In July, the Hi Investment & Securities firm also stated a 60% yield rate for Samsung’s 3nm process. However, in October, another South Korean media outlet, Chosunbiz, reported a yield rate of only around 50% for Samsung’s 3nm process. In January of this year, they further mentioned Samsung’s plan to increase the yield rate of the second-generation 3nm process to over 60% within six months.

Samsung's 3nm yield under 60%

The main issue causing Samsung’s low 3nm yield rate is the instability of its GAA (Gate-All-Around) process, directly impacting the improvement of the yield rate.

The GAA (Gate-All-Around FET) is a type of fully surrounding gate transistor, considered the next-generation successor to the fin-like structures. It achieves four-sided surrounding of the gate to the channel, maximizing contact on each side. This allows for better switch control compared to FinFET, resolving most potential current leaks. Additionally, the GAA’s channel control capabilities are stronger, enabling further size reduction.

Furthermore, GAA’s design flexibility is highly advantageous for collaborative optimization of design technology, leading to better Power, Performance, Area (PPA) advantages.

After scaling down to 5nm, the mainstream FinFET process has almost reached its physical limits, with fin distances becoming too close, leading to leakages. The physical limits of materials make it challenging for 3D FinFET transistors to continue.

The transition from FinFET to GAA is considered an inevitable process.

Therefore, in order to reclaim the title of “leading foundry,” Samsung has heavily invested in GAA technology. Not only did they start production early, but also claim that their 3nm GAA technology utilizes wide-channel nanosheets, providing higher performance and energy efficiency compared to GAA technology using narrow-channel nanowires.

In their 3nm GAA technology, Samsung adjusted the channel width of nanosheet transistors to optimize power consumption and performance. Compared to their 5nm process, the first generation of 3nm GAA technology reduces power consumption by 45%, improves performance by 23%, and reduces chip area by 16%. The second generation of 3nm GAA technology further reduces power consumption by 50%, enhances performance by 30%, and decreases chip area by 35%.

Samsung's 3nm yield under 60%

However, while the prospects seem promising, the reality is harsh. The complex challenges faced by GAA technology do not appear to have easy solutions. Despite Samsung’s announcement in 2022 of the mass production of 3nm GAA, they have yet to resolve the yield rate issue today, which has even impacted the production of their own Exynos 2500 chip, as reported earlier.

On the other hand, their biggest competitor, TSMC, continues to steadily improve its FinFET technology at the 3nm node. With its excellent performance and mature technology, TSMC not only secured orders from Apple but also gained more time for its GAA technology.

Reportedly, TSMC has made significant breakthroughs in the development of the 2nm process and will transition to GAA technology, with mass production planned by 2025.

It can be said that time is running out for Samsung. If they fail to address the yield rate issue of their 3nm GAA technology this year, they risk losing the orders for 3nm chip fabrication from Qualcomm and MediaTek. They would then have to rely on their accumulated experience in GAA technology for a showdown at the 2nm node with TSMC.

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