from the big-money-in-little-chips dept.
Based on current projections for sales and NAND/DRAM pricing, Samsung's semiconductor revenues are likely to grow larger than Intel's during the second quarter of 2017. Intel has held the #1 spot in the industry since 1993:
Samsung's positioning is strengthening not just because of increased demand for RAM and flash memory, but because an ongoing NAND shortage is keeping prices high. Analysts blame a rocky transition from 2D to 3D NAND, increased demand from Chinese smartphone manufacturers, and the increasing popularity of SSDs as factors in the shortage.
On top of the RAM business, Samsung also says it's seeing solid demand for 14nm SoCs, image sensors, and other smartphone chips. The company expects its new 10nm process to keep the business growing. Samsung manufactures its own Exynos SoCs as well as some of Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips and some of the A-series chips Apple uses across its iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Apple TV lineups.
Samsung will be the first company to sell a 10nm chip:
Samsung announced its next-generation mobile application processor, the Exynos 9 Series 8895, and said it's the first 10nm processor built so far. This means Samsung beat Intel and TSMC to the next-gen process node, but Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 could soon follow on the same 10nm process.
The 10nm FinFET process brings an improved 3D transistor structure that allows for up to 27% higher performance or up to 40% power consumption when compared to Samsung's previous 14nm FinFET process.
Samsung said the Exynos 8895 is also the first chip to embed a gigabit LTE modem that supports five carrier aggregation (5CA). This allows wireless operators to combine multiple fragments of a spectrum to deliver higher data throughput. The modem can achieve up to 1Gbps (Cat. 16) downlink with 5CA, and 150 Mbps uplink with 2CA.
Samsung has shipped 70,000 silicon wafers worth of "10nm Low Power Early" chips, and is planning a supposed 6 nanometer process. The company implies that it will make 8nm and 6nm chips in addition to 10nm and 7nm:
It's looking like Samsung will be the first company to manufacture 10nm chips, besting both Intel and TSMC. Samsung has also already set its eyes on the 8nm, 7nm, and 6nm process technologies. The 8nm and 6nm processes will likely be follow-up technologies to the 10nm and 7nm processes, respectively.
The company is expected to reach 7nm by 2019, a move that could be enabled by its partnership with IBM. The company may also use EUV lithography for its 7nm process, but it's not yet clear whether EUV lithography will be available for the first ever 7nm process iteration. Intel has hinted before that it may not adopt EUV lithography until the 5nm process generation. Samsung will reveal more details about its roadmap, including the 8nm and 6nm process generations, at the upcoming U.S Samsung Foundry Forum scheduled for May 24, 2017.
Intel is talking about improvements it has made to transistor scaling for the 10nm process node, and claims that its version of 10nm will increase transistor density by 2.7x rather than doubling it.
On the face of it, three years between process shrinks, rather than the traditional two years, would appear to end Moore's Law. But Intel claims that's not so. The company says that the 14nm and 10nm process shrinks in particular more than doubled the transistor density. At 10nm, for example, the company names a couple of techniques that are enabling this "hyperscaling." Each logic cell (an arrangement of transistors to form a specific logic gate, such as a NAND gate or a flip flop) is surrounded by dummy gates: spacers to isolate one cell from its neighbor. Traditionally, two dummy gates have been used at the boundary of each cell; at 10nm, Intel is reducing this to a single dummy gate, thereby reducing the space occupied by each cell and allowing them to be packed more tightly.
Each gate has a number of contacts used to join them to the metal layers of the chip. Traditionally, the contact was offset from the gate. At 10nm, Intel is stacking the contacts on top of the gates, which it calls "contact over active gate." Again, this reduces the space each gate takes, increasing the transistor density.
IC Insights has predicted that DRAM prices will continue to increase this year:
According to IC Insights, DRAM prices will continue to increase even though they have more than doubled (+111%) over the last 12 months. IC Insights predicts that by the end of the calendar year DRAM's price per bit will have jumped a record 40% (or more).
[...] Of course, the record pricing levels are great for our friends at the major foundries. Samsung, Micron, and Sk Hynix are also raking in their own record profits and enjoying healthy margins. We have both DRAM and NAND shortages occurring at the same time, which is great for the foundries, and unless a player breaks ranks to gain market share, we can expect more foot-dragging before any of the foundries increases output.
The booming mobile industry and server markets are exacerbating the issue, so you would expect that the fabs would boost DRAM output. Unfortunately, the three primary fabs (Micron bought Elpida, reducing the number of players) don't share the same vision.
IC Insights indicates that Micron will not increase production capacity, instead relying upon improvements in yields and shrinking down to smaller nodes to boost its DRAM bit output. Sk Hynix has expressed its desire to boost DRAM output but hasn't set a firm timeline for fab expansion (unlikely to occur in the near term). Samsung is as tight-lipped as usual, so we aren't sure of its intentions.
In the 1980s there were 23 major DRAM suppliers, but cutthroat pricing and continual oversupplies eventually led to the wave of consolidation that left us with the current three suppliers.
December 2015: DDR4 Memory Prices Declined 40% in 6 Months
The explosive growth in the NAND flash market may be slowing down:
After a blistering year-and-a-half long surge, a sudden drop in some memory prices, followed by Samsung Electronics Co's disappointing profit estimate, is causing jitters among investors who had bet the chip boom would last at least another year.
Amid news that the market has started losing some steam - prices of high-end flash memory chips, which are widely used in smartphones, dropped nearly 5 percent in the fourth quarter - some analysts now expect the industry's growth rate will fall by more than half this year to 30 percent.
That led shares in Samsung to dip 7.5 percent last week, while its home rival SK Hynix fell 6.2 percent. But analysts say that there is unlikely to be a sudden crash, and that 2018 should be a relatively stable year for chipmakers.
The $122 billion memory chip industry has enjoyed an unprecedented boom since mid-2016, expanding nearly 70 percent in 2017 alone thanks to robust growth of smartphones and cloud services that require more powerful chips that can store more data.
Previously: Samsung Set to Outpace Intel in Semiconductor Revenues
Chaos as Toshiba Tries to Sell Memory Business
IC Insights Predicts Additional 40% Increase in DRAM Prices
Expect 20-30% Cheaper NAND in Late 2018
Samsung has begun preparations to build another semiconductor production facility near Pyeongtaek, South Korea. The fab will produce various types of memory as the market demands, and if unofficial information is correct, the new fab may be larger than the adjacent fab that began operations last year.
At present the upcoming fab is called the P2 Project and it will be located adjacent to the existing fab near Pyeongtaek. Samsung has already started to establish infrastructure for the production facility — it ordered the construction of gas pipes for the new production facility in January and is expected to start other works shortly. ETNews reports that Samsung is looking at investing ₩30 trillion ($27.8 billion) in the new P2 Project facility, but does not elaborate whether the number represents total investments, or initial investments. ₩30 trillion is the total amount of money that Samsung has already invested and plans to invest in its existing fab near Pyeongtaek by 2021. Considering the fact that the P2 is in an early stage of planning, it is unlikely that the company has finalized its investments plans.
Related: Samsung Set to Outpace Intel in Semiconductor Revenues
Samsung Could Boost NAND Production Capacity, WD Intervenes in Toshiba Memory Sale
Samsung Plans a "4nm" Process
GlobalFoundries to Spend $10-12 Billion on a 7nm Fab, Possibly $14-18 Billion for 5nm
Samsung's Second Generation 10nm-Class DRAM in Production
TSMC Holds Groundbreaking Ceremony for "5nm" Fab, Production to Begin in 2020