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TSMC Reportedly Auctioned off "Excess Capacity" at a 15-20% Price Premium

We've all been reading multiple stories covering the current overly high demand compared to manufacturing capability for semiconductors. Some of us have actually felt this lack in supply not only in our pockets (for those who purchased above-MSRP graphics cards, CPUs or consoles). And apparently, TSMC has just made quite a deal more money out of this "extraordinary demand" than it usually does, as it's being reported the company has auctioned off "excess capacity" to an unknown third-party for 15-20% higher prices than they usually practice.

Now before we start lynching TSMC here, that can mean many things. There is a backlog of orders still to be filled for most manufacturers, that much the reports doing the rounds claim; however, the nature of semiconductor manufacturing occurs throughout many different nodes and technologies. It's more than likely that this doesn't mean that TSMC saved some wafers that could have been used for AMD's RX, Zen, or custom APUs for next-gen consoles on the side and decided to give them to another buyer. This likely means that TSMC had one or more nodes or manufacturing technologies that hadn't been pre-booked yet, and that some players might've looked at that as a solution to their semiconductor woes. And TSMC, having more than one interested party, auctioned the excess capacity. The rumor places the most likely candidates for the purchase as car manufacturers, who have also been hard by the lack of semiconductors in the market, and that's one business where it may make sense to order manufacturing on nodes other than the most cutting-edge; cars just don't need the latest, most powerful and greatest chips to run their software. But all in all, the result is this: a good day for TSMC.

China Gobbling Up Supply of Used Semiconductor Manufacturing Machines

As the tensions between China and the US seem to have come to stay for the foreseeable future, Chinese companies are now opting to resort to older technologies so as to shore up their semiconductor manufacturing capability and reduce dependency from US-based imports. With several companies feeling the tight rope of US-imposed sanctions on their ability to purchase critical supplies (which brought even giant Huawei to its proverbial knees), it seems like a safe bet that China doesn't really care to be on the cutting edge for all but the most mission-critical applications. This happens at a time when the world is still reeling from general semiconductor shortages (some 30% below demand levels). This results in used semiconductor manufacturing equipment - which according to some sources, was "worthless several years ago" - to now be flying from storage warehouses and directly onto factory floors as fast humanly possible. And sometimes, that equipment is acquired for a cool $1 million.

The litography equipment being bought-up (apparently, 90% of the available supply is headed to China) mostly churns out 200 mm wafers, as opposed to today's most modern processes' 300 mm. This means that it's not only the wafer etching machines that are required, but also all the other peripheral equipment that is indispensable to the manufacturing process, such as etching and cleansing machines. This has prompted certain companies, such as Canon, to re-release litography equipment for 200 mm processes - nine years after their last offering was put to sale. This could actually be a way to supplement existing semiconductor requirements, as not everything has to be in the cutting edge of semiconductor capabilities - the old "satisficing" adage could indeed prove a good solution to the increasing demand for semiconductors.

U.S. DoD Partners with GlobalFoundries to Manufacture Chips at Fab 8, Upstate NY

GLOBALFOUNDRIES (GF), the world's leading specialty foundry, today announced a strategic partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to provide a secure and reliable supply of semiconductor solutions manufactured at GF's Fab 8 in Malta, New York—the company's most advanced semiconductor manufacturing facility. These semiconductor chips will be used in some of the DoD's most sensitive applications for land, air, sea, and space systems.

Under the agreement, GF will provide a supply of chips built at Fab 8 on its differentiated 45 nm SOI platform. The agreement is made possible by Fab 8's compliance with U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and highly restrictive Export Control Classification Numbers under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).

The new supply agreement builds upon the longstanding partnership between the DoD and GF to provide chips for defense, aerospace, and other sensitive applications. GF currently supplies the DoD with chips manufactured at GF's other on-shore facilities, Fab 10 in East Fishkill, New York, and Fab 9 in Burlington, Vermont.

Manufacturing: Samsung Semiconductor Fabs in Texas Shut Down Following State-wide Power Shortages

News just keep flowing that are bound to have impact on pricing for components users of this website know and love. The Austin-American Statesman reports that Samsung has been ordered to shutter its Texas factories in wake of recent power shortages that have impacted the state. The order, which came from Austin Energy, doesn't just affect Samsung: all industrial and semiconductor manufacturers in the state were ordered to idle or shut down their facilities, meaning that NXP Semiconductors and Infineon Semiconductors have also been affected. According to Austin Energy, all companies have complied with the order. A date for the lifting of these restrictions still hasn't been given.

As we know, semiconductor manufacturing is a drawn-out process, with some particular wafers taking several months in their journey from initial fabrication until they reach completion. This meas that it's a particularly sensitive business in regards to power outages or general service interruptions. The entire semiconductor manufacturing lines - and products therein, in various stages of production - can be rendered unusable due to these events, which will have a sizable impact in the final manufacturing output of a given factory. It remains to be seen the scale of this production impact, but a few percentage points difference in the overall global semiconductor manufacturing could have dire implications for availability and pricing, considering the already insufficient operational capacity in regards to demand. Considering the impact adverse temperatures are having on Texas residents, here's hoping for the quick resolution of these problems, which affect much more than just semiconductor manufacturing capabilities.

AMD Reportedly in Plans to Outsource Partial Chip Production to Samsung

It's been doing the rounds in the rumor mill that AMD is looking to expand its semiconductor manufacturing partners beyond TSMC (for the 7 nm process and eventually 5 nm) and Global Foundries (12 nm process used in its I/O dies). The intention undoubtedly comes from the strain that's being placed on TSMC's production lines, as most foundry-less businesses outsource their wafer production to the Taiwanese companies' factories and manufacturing processes, which are currently the industry's best. However, as we've seen, TSMC is having a hard time scaling its production facilities to the unprecedented demand it's seeing from its consumers. The company also has recently announced it may prioritize new manufacturing capabilities for the automotive industry, which is also facing shortages in chips - and that certainly doesn't instill confidence in capacity increases for its non-automotive clients.

That's what originated form the rumor mill. Speculating, this could mean that AMD would be looking to outsource products with generally lower ASP to Samsung's foundries, instead of trying to cram even more silicon manufacturing onto TSMC's 7 nm process (where it already fabricates its Zen 3, RDNA 2, EPYC, and custom silicon solutions for latest-gen consoles). AMD might thus be planning on leveraging Samsung's 8 nm or even smaller fabrication processes as alternatives for, for example, lower-than-high-end graphics solutions and other product lines (such as APUs and FPGA production, should its acquisition of Xilinx come through).

TrendForce: TSMC to Mass-Produce Select Intel Products, CPUs Starting 2021

According to a market analysis from TrendForce, Intel's manufacturing efforts with TSMC will go way beyond a potential TSMC technology licensing for that company's manufacturing technology to be employed in Intel's own fabs. The market research firm says that Intel will instead procure wafers directly from TSMC, starting on 2H2021, in the order of 20-25% of total production for some of its non-CPU products. But the manufacturing deal is said to go beyond that, with TSMC picking up orders for Intel's Core i3 CPUs in the company's 5 nm manufacturing node - one that Intel will take years to scale down to on its own manufacturing capabilities.

According to TrendForce, that effort will scale upwards with TSMC manufacturing certain allotments of Intel's midrange and high-end CPUs using the semiconductor manufacturer's 3 nm technology in 2022. TrendForce believes that increased outsourcing of Intel's product lines will allow the company to not only continue its existence as a major IDM, but also maintain and prioritize in-house production lines for chips with high margins, while more effectively spending CAPEX on advanced R&D due to savings on fabrication technology scaling - fewer in-house chips means lower needs for investment in capacity increases, which would allow the company to sink the savings into further R&D. The move would also allow Intel to close the gap with rival AMD's manufacturing advantages in a more critical, timely manner.

EU Signs Declaration for 2 nm Node and Custom Processor Development

European Union has today processed a declaration that was signed by 17 member states about the development of a 2 nm semiconductor node and an advanced low-power processor. The declaration signed today proposes that the EU puts away 145 billion Euros for the development of the technologies needed to manufacture a 2 nm semiconductor manufacturing process, along with the development of a custom, low-power embedded processor designed for industrial applications. The 17 member countries include Belgium, France, Germany, Croatia, Estonia, Italy, Greece, Malta, Spain, The Netherlands, Portugal, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Finland, and Cyprus. All of the countries listed are going to join the development of these technologies and will have the funds to do it over the next 2-3 years.
EU Declaration
To ensure Europe's technology sovereignty and competitiveness, as well as our capacity to address key environmental and societal challenges and new emerging mass markets, we need to strengthen Europe's capacity to develop the next generation of processors and semiconductors. This includes chips and embedded systems that offer the best performance for specific applications across a wide range of sectors as well as leading-edge manufacturing progressively advancing towards 2 nm nodes for processor technology. Using connectivity, where Europe enjoys global lead, as a major use case driver for developing such capacity enables Europe to set the right level of ambition. This will require a collective effort to pool investment and to coordinate actions, by both public and private stakeholders.

NVIDIA to Introduce an Architecture Named After Ada Lovelace, Hopper Delayed?

NVIDIA has launched its GeForce RTX 3000 series of graphics cards based on the Ampere architecture three months ago. However, we are already getting information about the next-generation that the company plans to introduce. In the past, the rumors made us believe that the architecture coming after Ampere is allegedly being called Hopper. Hopper architecture is supposed to bring multi-chip packaging technology and be introduced after Ampere. However, thanks to @kopite7kimi on Twitter, a reliable source of information, we have data that NVIDIA is reportedly working on a monolithic GPU architecture that the company internally refers to as "ADxxx" for its codenames.

The new monolithically-designed Lovelace architecture is going make a debut on the 5 nm semiconductor manufacturing process, a whole year earlier than Hopper. It is unknown which foundry will manufacture the GPUs, however, both of NVIDIA's partners, TSMC and Samsung, are capable of manufacturing it. The Hopper is expected to arrive sometime in 2023-2024 and utilize the MCM technology, while the Lovelace architecture will appear in 2021-2022. We are not sure if the Hopper architecture will be exclusive to data centers or extend to the gaming segment as well. The Ada Lovelace architecture is supposedly going to be a gaming GPU family. Ada Lovelace, a British mathematician, has appeared on NVIDIA's 2018 GTC t-shirt known as "Company of Heroes", so NVIDIA may have already been using the ADxxx codenames internally for a long time now.

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.

NVIDIA: RTX 30-series Shortages Partly Caused by Insufficient Wafer, Substrate and Component Supply

The current widespread shortages on anything gaming-related (be it gaming consoles or the latest GPUs from both NVIDIA and AMD) are a well-known quantity by now. However, it now seems that NVIDIA's shortages aren't just the result of "outstanding, unprecedented demand", aided by scalping practices, but also from wafer and component shortages. NVIDIA's CFO Colette Kress at Credit Suisse 24th Annual Technology Conference expanded on these issues, saying that "We do have supply constraints and our supply constraints do expand past what we are seeing in terms of wafers and silicon, but yes some constraints are in substrates and components. We continue to work during the quarter on our supply and we believe though that demand will probably exceed supply in Q4 for overall gaming."

There was no further information on exactly which components are experiencing shortages. An educated guess might pin some of these issues on the exotic GDDR6X memory subsystem on high-tier Ampere graphics cards, but there could be other factors at play here. If NVIDIA did underestimate demand for its Ampere graphics cards, though, that will make it that much harder for the company to ramp up orders (and hence production) with Samsung - semiconductor manufacturing works with several months of lead time between orders and their actual fulfillment.

Another Semiconductor Player Bites the Dust: Chinese HSMC Shutters Operations

The semiconductor manufacturing industry is a cutthroat competition mostly played between established forces. One need only look to AMD's decision to spin-off its manufacturing arm to create Global Foundries to see how even a grand company can hit manufacturing issues (though not only manufacturing issues hit AMD at that time, obviously) can threaten to shutter operations. Intel's recent issues with 10 nm and 7 nm fabrication also come to mind. as such, it comes at no great surprise that Chinese company Wuhan Hongxin Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (HSMC) has reportedly run out of cash. What's a little more surprising is how this company was actually backed by the Chinese government, and yet it still failed - proof of the semiconductor industry's technical and investment liquidity requirements.

HSMC back in 2017 announced plans to bring online a manufacturing plant in the central Chinese province of Hubei. The aim was to manufacture 14 nm and 7 nm chips as early as 2019/2020, funded by a $20 billion loan and numerous funding rounds. HSMC's ex-CEO Chiang Shang-yi (who previously served as former head of R&D at TSMC) said to EETimes that "Investors ran short of cash." And that was it for the company's aspirations. The company has now been absorbed by the municipal government in the central Chinese province of Hubei, and what will come of that (and the company's future) remain uncertain.
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