In short: Samsung has announced that wafer production is now underway for its new 7nm Low Power Plus (7LPP) process node. The new process offers as much as a 40-percent increase in overall area efficiency while reducing power consumption by up to 50-percent or boosting performance by up to 20-percent. Through the use of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, the process further reduces the total number of layers, or multi-pattern mask sets, required to create a wafer by approximately 20-percent. Samsung further indicates that not only is it producing the wafers. A variety of partnerships are also in place, allowing end-to-end development and design-implementation for 7LPP-based components.
Background: Samsung looks to its previous breakthroughs with its 10nm FinFET process for comparison of performance and efficiency but is actually not the first company to have arrived at a 7nm process. The next generation of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoCs and direct follow-up to the Snapdragon 845, expected to be marketed as the Snapdragon 8150, is set to be built on competitor TSMC’s 7nm process. In fact, that company’s N7 7nm process was already put into mass production and utilizes a similar EUV method to Samsung’s. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Samsung’s position is any worse than it might otherwise be, despite the fact that Qualcomm is essentially the premiere chipset supplier for the smartphone industry. The Korean tech giant typically looks to its own foundries and the Exynos line of SoCs for its flagship devices and many of its more budget-minded handsets.
Since Samsung also happens to be the world’s most successful Android smartphone manufacturer, a substantial number of its wafers will almost certainly see use in upgrades to the Exynos chip family. Moreover, the new product will certainly be both desirable and applicable to the technology industry outside of smartphones. That opens the door for partnerships with other global chip manufacturers in a range of categories and IoT products from wearables to televisions and other appliances. Despite TSMC’s lead and its similar timeline for scaling down process nodes over the next few years, there are no guarantees it will win out for this generation.
Impact: With the new wafers now in production, Samsung has turned its attention forward toward continuing through that roadmap towards 3nm production. For the time being, the company’s goal is to finalize research and push from 6nm to 5nm processing throughout the course of 2019. Arrival at a 4nm process node isn’t expected until sometime in 2020, so there is still a lot of work to be done.