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Samsung to Build $17 Billion Silicon Manufacturing Plant in the US by 2023

Samsung has been one of the world's biggest foundries and one of three big players still left in the leading-edge semiconductor process development and manufacturing. However, the Korean giant is always seeking ways to improve its offerings, especially for Western customers. Today, it is reported that Samsung has reportedly talked with regulators in Texas, New York, and Arizona about building a $17 billion silicon manufacturing facility in the United States. The supposed factory is going to be located near Austin, Texas, and is supposed to offer around 1800 jobs. If the deal is approved and Samsung manages to complete the project on time, the factory is supposed to start mass production in Q4 of 2023.

What process is Samsung going to manufacture in the new fab? Well, current speculations are pointing out to the 3 nm node, with Samsung's special GAAFET (Gate All Around FET) technology tied to the new node. The fab is also expected to make use of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography for manufacturing. Samsung already has a facility in the US called S2, however, that will not be upgraded as it is still serving a lot of clients. Instead, the company will build new facilities to accommodate the demand for newer nodes. It is important to note that Samsung will not do any R&D work in the new fab, and the company will only manufacture the silicon there.

Apple Patents Multi-Level Hybrid Memory Subsystem

Apple has today patented a new approach to how it uses memory in the System-on-Chip (SoC) subsystem. With the announcement of the M1 processor, Apple has switched away from the traditional Intel-supplied chips and transitioned into a fully custom SoC design called Apple Silicon. The new designs have to integrate every component like the Arm CPU and a custom GPU. Both of these processors need good memory access, and Apple has figured out a solution to the problem of having both the CPU and the GPU accessing the same pool of memory. The so-called UMA (unified memory access) represents a bottleneck because both processors share the bandwidth and the total memory capacity, which would leave one processor starving in some scenarios.

Apple has patented a design that aims to solve this problem by combining high-bandwidth cache DRAM as well as high-capacity main DRAM. "With two types of DRAM forming the memory system, one of which may be optimized for bandwidth and the other of which may be optimized for capacity, the goals of bandwidth increase and capacity increase may both be realized, in some embodiments," says the patent, " to implement energy efficiency improvements, which may provide a highly energy-efficient memory solution that is also high performance and high bandwidth." The patent got filed way back in 2016 and it means that we could start seeing this technology in the future Apple Silicon designs, following the M1 chip.

Update 21:14 UTC: We have been reached out by Mr. Kerry Creeron, an attorney with the firm of Banner & Witcoff, who provided us with additional insights about the patent. Mr. Creeron has provided us with his personal commentary about it, and you can find Mr. Creeron's quote below.

Linux Gets Ported to Apple's M1-Based Devices

When Apple introduces its lineup of devices based on the custom Apple Silicon, many people have thought that it represents the end for any further device customization and that Apple is effectively locking-up the ecosystem even more. That is not the case we have today. Usually, developers working on Macs are always in need of another operating system to test their software and try it out. It means that they have to run some virtualization software like virtual machines to test another OS like Linux and possibly Windows. However, it would be a lot easier if they could just boot that OS directly on the device and that is exactly why we are here today.

Researchers from Corellium, a startup company based in Florida, working on ARM device virtualization, have pulled off an incredible feat. They have managed to get Linux running on Apple's M1 custom silicon based devices. The CTO of Corellium, Mr. Chris Wade, has announced that Linux is now fully usable on M1 silicon. The port can take full advantage of the CPU, however, there is no GPU acceleration for now, and graphics are set to the software rendering mode. Corellium also promises to take the changes it made upstream to the Linux kernel itself, meaning open-source and permissive license model. Below you can find an image of Apple M1 Mac Mini running the latest Ubuntu OS build.

Prices of NAND Flash Controller ICs Poised to Rise by 15-20% due to Tightening Production Capacity for Foundry Services, Says TrendForce

In the upstream semiconductor industry, the major foundries such as TSMC and UMC are reporting fully loaded capacities, while in the downstream, the available production capacity for OSAT is also lacking, according to TrendForce's latest investigations. Given this situation, suppliers of NAND Flash controller ICs such as Phison and Silicon Motion are now unable to meet upside demand from their clients. Not only have many controller IC suppliers temporarily stopped offering quotes for new orders, but they are also even considering raising prices soon because the negotiations between NAND Flash suppliers and module houses over 1Q21 contracts are now at the critical juncture. The potential increases in prices of controller ICs from outsourced suppliers (IC design houses) are currently estimated to be the range of 15-20%.

With regards to the demand side, demand has risen significantly for eMMC solutions with medium- and low-density specifications (i.e., 64 GB and lower), for which NAND Flash suppliers have mostly stopped updating the NAND Flash process technology, while maintaining support with the legacy 2D NAND or the 64L 3D NAND process. This is on account of strong sales for Chromebook devices and TVs. As older processes gradually account for a lowering portion of bit output proportions from NAND Flash suppliers, these companies are exhibiting a lowered willingness to directly supply such eMMC products to clients. As a result, clients now need to turn to memory module houses, which are able to source NAND Flash components and controllers, to procure eMMC products in substantial quantities.

China Develops Tools for 28 nm Silicon Manufacturing

When the US decided to impose sanctions on all US-made technology use in foreign countries (China), the Chinese semiconductor manufacturing industry seemed at the time that it would just completely stop. Without the tools to manufacture silicon, Chinese manufacturers would need to turn to other countries to search for a possible solution. That, however, turned out impossible as the US administration has decided to stop the silicon from going into the hands of Chinese companies, by making a condition that any US-made technology can not get to China. Many of the parts for silicon manufacturing are designed in the US, so they have the power to restrict the use.

Today, in a surprising turn of events, we have information that Shanghai Micro Electronic Equipment (SMEE) has developed a deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography scanner that is set for delivery in 2021. With a plan to deliver it in the fourth quarter of 2021, SMEE has designed this DUV scanner for the production of 28 nm node. While not being the most advanced node available to date, it is a significant start for Chinese technology independence. ASML, the producer of such scanners, used to be one of the few options there, however, it just gained a competitor. China will deliver its new silicon on a 28 nm process at the end of 2021. Pictured below, you can see how the scanner from SMEE looks like.

Intel to Keep Its Number One Semiconductor Supplier Ranking in 2020: IC Insights

IC Insights' November Update to the 2020 McClean Report, released later this month, includes a discussion of the forecasted top-25 semiconductor suppliers in 2020. This research bulletin covers the expected top-15 2020 semiconductor suppliers (Figure 1).

The November Update also includes a detailed five-year forecast through 2024 of the IC market by product type (including dollar volume, unit shipments, and average selling price) and a forecast of the major semiconductor industry capital spenders for 2020. A five-year outlook for total semiconductor industry capital spending is also provided.

Alleged Apple M1X Processor Specifications Surface

Apple's silicon design team has recently launched its "fastest" CPU core ever, found inside the company's M1 processor designed for laptops and mini-PCs. Featuring an eight-core processor, where four cores are represented by low power small configurations, and four big, high-performance design cores, the M1 processor proved to be extremely fast. However, the Apple Silicon processor doesn't seem to cover anything higher than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. And that is about to change. When it comes to higher-end models like the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which provides more cooling area, it is logical that the processor for those designs is a higher performance design.

Enter the world of the Apple M1X processor. Designed for high-end laptops and the most demanding workloads, the new processor aims to create a new performance level. Featuring a 12-core CPU with eight big and four small cores, the M1X processor is going to deliver much better performance than M1. The graphics and memory configuration are currently unknown, so we have to wait and see how it will look like. The M1X is set to arrive sometime in Q1 of 2021, according to the source of the leak, so be patient and remember to take this information with a grain of salt.

Samsung Could Become Apple's Newest Chip Supplier

Apple has recently announced its transition to Apple Silicon, meaning that every processor inside its products will be custom designed by the company. However, that seems to be becoming a bit of a problem. The sole supplier of chips for Apple has been Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which Apple collaborated with for the past few years. The sheer capacity of TSMC is enough to satisfy the demand from several companies and thus it allows some of them to book its capacity. With Apple demanding more and more capacity than ever before, it is becoming quite hard to keep up with it. That is why Apple is, according to some analysts for Business Korea, looking for a foundry beyond TSMC's to manufacture its chips.

According to the source, Apple is looking at the direction of Samsung Electronics and its silicon manufacturing facilities. Samsung has recently started the production of its 5 nm silicon manufacturing node. We have reported that the first SoCs are set to arrive soon. However, it may be possible that Apple's M1 lineup of SoCs will be a part of that first wave. Apple is reportedly going to tap both TSMC and Samsung to qualify enough supply for the huge demand of the products based on the latest 5 nm technology.

Apple's M1-Based MacBook Air Benchmarked

When Apple announced that they are going to switch their Mac lineup from Intel-based x86 processors to the custom "Apple Silicon," everyone was wondering how the new processors will look and perform. To everyone's luck, Apple has just a few days ago announced its first Apple Silicon custom processor for MacBook. The M1, as the company calls it, is their first processor designed for higher-power and performance tasks The M1 features eight CPU cores (four high-performance and four-high efficiency) paired with eight cores dedicated to the graphics. On the die, there is also a 16-core neural engine made to accelerate machine learning tasks found in the new applications.

Today, we are getting the first GeekBench 5 CPU benchmarks that showcase just how far Apple has come with its custom design. What we have is the M1 processor found in MacBook Air. This Mac model features a passive cooling system, cooling a CPU with a base frequency of 3.2 GHz. The system scored 1719 points in the single-core result, and 6967 points in the multi-core result. The single-threaded results measure itself with some of the highest-end offerings from Intel and AMD, while the multi-threaded results are very good given the mix and match of small and big cores.

China Forecast to Represent 22% of the Foundry Market in 2020, says IC Insights

IC Insights recently released its September Update to the 2020 McClean Report that presented the second of a two-part analysis on the global IC foundry industry and included a look at the pure-play foundry market by region.

China was responsible for essentially all of the total pure-play foundry market increase in 2018. In 2019, the U.S./China trade war slowed China's economic growth but its foundry marketshare still increased by two percentage points to 21%. Moreover, despite the Covid-19 shutdown of China's economy earlier this year, China's share of the pure-play foundry market is forecast to be 22% in 2020, 17 percentage points greater than it registered in 2010 (Figure 1).

TSMC Ramps Up 3 nm Node Production

TSMC has had quite a good time recently. They are having all of their capacity fully booked and the development of new semiconductor nodes is going good. Today, thanks to the report of DigiTimes, we have found out that TSMC is ramping up the production lines to prepare for 3 nm high-volume manufacturing. The 3 nm node is expected to enter HVM in 2022, which is not that far away. In the beginning, the new node is going to be manufactured on 55.000 wafers of 300 mm size, and it is expected to reach as much as 100.000 wafers per month output by 2023. With the accelerated purchase of EUV machines, TSMC already has all of the equipment required for the manufacturing of the latest node. We are waiting to see more details on the 3 nm node as we approach its official release.

China Focuses on 3rd Generation Semiconductors in Aim for Self-Sufficiency

The People Republic of China has always released 5-year plans that have a goal of achieving something. And in the latest, 14th 5-year plan China has an eye on the semiconductor industry. Specifically, China wants to develop independence and self-sufficiency when it comes to semiconductors. With tensions between the US and China raising, it is a smart move to have domestic technology to rely on. The new plan starts next year, 2021, and ends in the year 2025. In that period, China will devote financial resources and human workforce that will hopefully enable its goal. The primary aim for this 14th plan seems to be 3rd generation semiconductor technology. What is meant by that is a technology like gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC). These technologies would be a nice addition to China's portfolio of semiconductors, so we should wait and see what comes out of it.

Alleged Prices of TSMC Silicon Wafers Appear

TSMC, one of the biggest silicon manufacturers in the world, usually doesn't disclose company pricing of the silicon it manufactures and only shares that with its customers. It appears that RetiredEngineer (@chiakokhua on Twitter) got a hold of the pricing of TSMCs wafers on every manufacturing node starting from 90 nm down to 5 nm. That includes a wide portfolio of 65, 40, 28, 20, 16/12, 10, and 7 nm nodes as well. The table shown below includes information dating to April 2020, so it is possible that some things are now different and they surely are. There are a few quite interesting notes from the image, namely the price increase as the node shrinks.

From 90 nm to 20 nm, the price of the wafer didn't increase as much, however, starting from 16/12 nm node(s), TSMC has seen costs per wafer, and other costs increase exponentially. For example, just compare the 10 nm wafer price of $5992 with the price of a 5 nm wafer which costs an amazing $16988. This is more than a 180% price increase in just three years, however, the cost per transistor is down as you get around 229% higher density in that period, making TSMC actually in line with Moore's Law. That is comparing Transistor density (MTr / mm²) of 52.51 million transistors for the 10 nm node and 173 million transistors per mm² of the 5 nm node .

Apple's Custom GPU is Reportedly Faster than Intel iGPU

When Apple announced their transition form Intel processors to Apple Silicon, we were left wondering how the silicon will perform and what characteristics will it bring with it. According to the latest report from The China Times, the Apple custom GPU found inside the new Apple Silicon will bring better performance and energy efficiency compared to Intel iGPU it replaces. The 5 nm GPU manufactured on TSMC's N5 semiconductor manufacturing node is supposedly codenamed "Lifuka" and it brings Apple's best to the table. Planned to power a 12-inch MacBook, the GPU will be paired with a custom CPU based on Arm ISA as well. The same chips powering iPhone and iPad devices will go into MacBook devices, with the TDP increased as MacBook will probably have much higher cooling capacity. The first Apple Silicon MacBook will come in H2 of 2021.
Here is the copy of a full report from The China Times below:

Samsung Announces Availability of its Silicon-Proven 3D IC Technology

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., a world leader in advanced semiconductor technology, today announced the immediate availability of its silicon-proven 3D IC packaging technology, eXtended-Cube (X-Cube), for today's most advanced process nodes. Leveraging Samsung's through-silicon via (TSV) technology, X-Cube enables significant leaps in speed and power efficiency to help address the rigorous performance demands of next-generation applications including 5G, artificial intelligence, high-performance computing, as well as mobile and wearable.

"Samsung's new 3D integration technology ensures reliable TSV interconnections even at the cutting-edge EUV process nodes," said Moonsoo Kang, senior vice president of Foundry Market Strategy at Samsung Electronics. "We are committed to bringing more 3D IC innovation that can push the boundaries of semiconductors."

TSMC to Stop Orders from Huawei in September

TSMC, one of the largest semiconductor manufacturing foundries, has officially confirmed that it will stop all orders from Chinese company Huawei Technologies. The Taiwanese silicon manufacturer has decided to comply with US regulations and will officially stop processing orders for Huawei on September 14th of this year. Precisely, the company was receiving orders from HiSilicon, a subsidiary of Huawei Technologies that focuses on creating custom silicon. Under the new regulation by the US, all non-US companies must apply for a license to ship any American-made technology to Huawei. Being that many American companies like KLA Corporation, Lam Research, and Applied Materials ship their tools to many manufacturing facilities, it would be quite difficult for Huawei to manufacture its silicon anywhere. That is why Huawei has already placed orders over at Chinese SMIC foundry.

TSMC to Manufacture Apple Silicon for Arm-Based Macs

Apple has recently announced its transition from Intel-based Mac computers to custom Arm-based Apple silicon equipped Macs. The speculations for such transition have lasted a few years and we finally got that confirmation. So the question remains: who will manufacture Apple's custom processors for Arm-based Macs? The answer is pretty simple. It is TSMC who will again become Apple's main supplier of silicon. With its broad offerings of the latest silicon nodes, it was no brainer choice for Apple. Combined with the history of collaboration with Apple, TSMC was the only choice for new Apple silicon. Whatever the company will use the new 5 nm node or use the "old" 7 nm one, the question remains.

TSMC expects to see huge orders from Apple in the second half of 2021, for Apple silicon, so Apple will become perhaps the biggest customer of TSMC. It is also worth pointing out that Apple will be using ASMedia's USB controller for Arm-based Macs, as the original report suggests.

Apple Silicon Will Support Thunderbolt 4

Since Apple has announced its transition from Intel to its custom Apple Silicon processors, there has been quite a lot of speculations on what the new processors will bring. Just a few days ago, Intel announced the latest advancement of its Thunderbolt port in the form of Thunderbolt 4, which further advances the Thunderbolt standard with a heap of new features. Since Apple has decided to do away from Intel silicon, there has been a question whatever Apple will offer Thunderbolt 4 support on its Macs. And it seems like we don't have to wonder any further. In the statement below, which Apple spokesman gave to The Verge, the answer is loud and clear.
Apple spokesman for The Verge
Over a decade ago, Apple partnered with Intel to design and develop Thunderbolt, and today our customers enjoy the speed and flexibility it brings to every Mac. We remain committed to the future of Thunderbolt and will support it in Macs with Apple silicon.

Google Teams up with SkyWater to Create Open Source PDK for Silicon Design

Silicon design is a hard process. You start by defining design in a hardware description language (HDL) and finish by routing all the wires on the piece of silicon. This used to be done by using proprietary tools and silicon Process Design Kits (PDK) that were unique to silicon manufacturing facilities. Starting from Intel, Samsung, and TSMC, they all have a specific PDK that is used for their silicon manufacturing and it contains all of the specifications for their nodes. It contains design constrains/information on the number of metal layers, how close can two wires be to each other, etc.

In the aim to open-source silicon design and finally allow for fully open silicon design flow, Google has partnered with SkyWater to deliver an open-source PDK that will allow designers to produce silicon on an open platform. Despite being designed for an older 130 nm node, this represents a massive achievement as there was a lack of such a thing before. There is already existing open-source toolchain to create designs, but there wasn't a PDK to port them to. Now, the PDK is available and designers can manufacture 100% open source silicon at SkyWater's facilities. In the GitHub repository listed as a source below, you can find some examples on how you can use the PDK with open source tools as well.

Basemark GPU will be the first benchmark for Apple Silicon based Macs

On Monday 22nd of June Apple announced Mac transition to Apple Silicon. Even though this transition was quite expected, the industry got very excited upon the announcement. Apple released quite a lot of information about their plans, but one key question remained unanswered: how fast are Apple's new ARM based Mac chips?

Apple said people should expect pure performance in one category in particular - graphical performance. What is the performance difference over the Intel integrated graphics that ship in a new MacBook Air? There is no public information available about it.
Basemark Benchmark Apple Silion

Hot Chips 2020 Program Announced

Today the Hot Chips program committee officially announced the August conference line-up, posted to hotchips.org. For this first-ever live-streamed Hot Chips Symposium, the program is better than ever!

In a session on deep learning training for data centers, we have a mix of talks from the internet giant Google showcasing their TPUv2 and TPUv3, and a talk from startup Cerebras on their 2nd gen wafer-scale AI solution, as well as ETH Zurich's 4096-core RISC-V based AI chip. And in deep learning inference, we have talks from several of China's biggest AI infrastructure companies: Baidu, Alibaba, and SenseTime. We also have some new startups that will showcase their interesting solutions—LightMatter talking about its optical computing solution, and TensTorrent giving a first-look at its new architecture for AI.
Hot Chips

Arm Offers Startups Zero-cost Access to its IP Portfolio

Arm today announced the launch of Arm Flexible Access for Startups, an extension of its already highly successful Flexible Access program. This new initiative offers early-stage silicon startups zero-cost access to a huge range of Arm's leading IP, along with global support and training resources, enabling them to start on their journey to commercial silicon and business scale.

"In today's challenging business landscape, enabling innovation is critical - now more than ever, startups with brilliant ideas need the fastest, most trusted route to success and scale," said Dipti Vachani, senior vice president and general manager, Automotive and IoT Line of Business, Arm. "Arm Flexible Access for Startups offers new silicon entrants a faster, more cost-efficient path to working prototypes, resulting in strengthened investor confidence for future funding."
Arm Chip

Huawei Moves 14 nm Silicon Orders from TSMC to SMIC

Huawei's subsidiary, HiSilicon, which designs the processors used in Huawei's smartphones and telecommunications equipment, has reportedly moved its silicon orders from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), according to DigiTimes. Why Huawei decided to do is move all of the 14 nm orders from Taiwanese foundry to China's largest silicon manufacturing fab, is to give itself peace of mind if the plan of the US Government goes through to stop TSMC from supplying Huawei. At least for the mid-tier chips built using 14 nm node, Huawei would gain some peace as a Chinese fab is a safer choice given the current political situation.

When it comes to the high-end SoCs built on 7 nm, and 5 nm in the future, it is is still uncertain how will Huawei behave in this situation, meaning that if US cuts off TSMC's supply to Huawei, they will be forced to use SMIC's 7 nm-class N+1 node instead of anything from TSMC. Another option would be Samsung, but it is a question will Huawei put itself in risk to be dependant on another foreign company. The lack of 14 nm orders from Huawei will not be reflecting much on TSMC, because whenever someone decides to cut orders, another company takes up the manufacturing capactiy. For example, when Huawei cut its 5 nm orders, Apple absorbed by ordering more capacity. When Huawei also cut 7 nm orders, AMD and other big customers decided to order more, making the situation feel like there is a real fight for TSMC's capacity.
Silicon Wafer

TSMC on Track to Deliver 3 nm in 2022

TSMC is delivering record results day after day, with a 5 nm manufacturing process starting High Volume Manufacturing (HVM) in Q2 next year, 7 nm process getting plenty of orders and the fact that TSMC just became the biggest company publicly trading in Asia. Continuing with the goal to match or even beat the famous Moore's Law, TSMC is already planning for future 3 nm node manufacturing, promised to start HVM as soon as 2022 arrives, according to JK Wang, TSMC's senior vice president of fab operations. Delivering 3 nm a whole year before originally planned in 2023, TSMC is working hard, with fab construction work doing quite well, judging by all the news that the company is releasing recently.

We can hope to see the first wave of products built using 3 nm manufacturing process sometime around end of year 2022, when the holiday season arrives. Usual customers like Apple and HiSilicon will surely utilize the new node and deliver their smartphones with 3 nm processors inside as soon as the process is ready for HVM.

TSMC Becomes Asia's Most Valuable Company

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, Limited, also known as TSMC shortly became Asia's biggest and the most valuable company with a market cap of over 8.02 trillion New Taiwan Dollars, which roughly translates to 262.75 billion US Dollars. Becoming the biggest Asian company, TSMC's market capitalization has now surpassed Samsung for the first time in the history of company existence.

The underlying reasons for becoming a company that TSMC is today, are plenty. Firstly, they are providing customers with the flexibility of choosing any manufacturing node, whatever it is the latest 7 nm or the older ones like 180 nm. They have a choice whatever they want to use something older and less expensive or something newer for high-performance and lower power. Additionally, TSMC is re-investing a big part of its profits into research and development efforts to stay competitive and deliver only the best technology to its customers, on time.
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