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More supply could lower prices

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the world's largest independent semiconductor foundry. The cost of building a chip foundry (known in the industry as a Fab) has increased dramatically with each new generation, leading many companies such as NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and Marvell to outsource production to foundries in order to focus on design rather than manufacturing.

TSMC has been the industry leader for a long time, enabling them to bring out advanced geometries fairly quickly. However, they have grown so large that leading edge companies are reliant on TSMC's production prowess, and any delays on a new process could cost them millions in revenue.

This has been the case for ATI, the graphics chip division of Advanced Micro Devices. ATI first began manufacturing the RV740 GPU used in the Radeon HD 4770 at the end of 2008, using TSMC's 40nm process technology. However, they weren't able to get a high enough yield rate for volume production until April, leading to a delayed launch.

The problems have continued for the rest of the year, as ATI launched the first DirectX 11 graphics cards and transitioned an entire generation of graphics chips to the 40nm process. The Radeon HD 5800 series was launched in September and has been extremely successful, so much so that it became production constrained due to yield issues at TSMC. ATI was selling every 40nm Cypress chip it could produce, but couldn't meet demand until TSMC was able to increase the supply of 40nm wafers in November. This led to increased supply in December, just in time for ATI to meet holiday demand.

There are now six discrete desktop graphics cards using 40nm chips from ATI, with two more about to be released. ATI also recently announced DirectX 11 Mobility Radeon GPUs for notebooks at CES. The company has sold over 2 million DX11 GPUs, all built using the 40nm process. While this may sound like a lot, ATI sells around 35 million GPUs per year, most of them below the $100 mark.

DailyTech spoke with a TSMC spokesperson yesterday, who stated that TSMC's 40nm yields are now "approximately at the same level" as the more mature 65nm process. Semiconductors are made in lithography chambers, and the process can be comprised of several hundred steps. Usually a new manufacturing process is developed and refined in a test fab and then transferred to production lines in a process called Chamber Matching. This theoretically ensures standard conformity and higher yields. There were several problems with chamber matching on TSMC's 40nm lines, leading to yield problems despite using the same process and recipes.

This is good news for ATI, as they prepare to launch more sub-$100 graphics cards for the cost-conscious value market. Rival NVIDIA must also be celebrating, as they recently began volume production of their next-generation GF100 graphics chip using their new Fermi architecture. The GF100 is expected to have a die size larger than 500mm^2, which makes having a good yield rate even more critical.

Having resolved its production problems, TSMC is looking ahead to the future. The company is betting big on the next-generation 28nm process node, and is finishing shell construction of Phase 5 of its Fab 12 facility. Initial 28nm production will start in the third quarter, ramping up to volume production in the fourth quarter. 28nm devices are expected to cut power usage in half, increase performance by 50%, and cost less due to smaller die sizes.

The new section is adjacent to Phase 4, which began volume 40nm production in the third quarter of last year. TSMC has estimated that it will spend over $5 billion on building and equipping Phase 4 and Phase 5. The total cleanroom area for both phases is approximately 22,700 square meters, with 2 stories underground and 4 stories above ground.

TSMC began a large-scale recruitment campaign at the beginning of January, and expects to hire more than 3,000 staff, primarily semiconductor engineers and production staff.



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DX11 Achievement
By jonmcc33 on 1/21/2010 9:04:13 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
The company has sold over 2 million DX11 GPUs, all built using the 40nm process. While this may sound like a lot, ATI sells around 35 million GPUs per year, most of them below the $100 mark.


Consider that these were all PCIe based add-in graphics cards and not onboard graphics (mobility), that it was achieved in a 3 month period and that there has been zero competition from nVIDIA for the DirectX 11 gaming market. I'll go ahead and toss in a recovering economy from one of the worst recessions in 50 years along with unemployment rates. Lastly, figure in yield issues where supply was not meeting demand.

That's a damn good number.




RE: DX11 Achievement
By DanNeely on 1/21/10, Rating: 0
RE: DX11 Achievement
By FITCamaro on 1/21/10, Rating: -1
RE: DX11 Achievement
By PrinceGaz on 1/21/2010 10:51:54 AM , Rating: 5
Do you seriously think that half of the global population (regardless of age or where they live, such as a baby in a developed country or most individuals in third-world countries) have the resources and ability to buy and use a computer themselves, let alone one where a discrete graphics card is required?


RE: DX11 Achievement
By ClownPuncher on 1/21/2010 4:01:35 PM , Rating: 5
I hope so, I want to talk some trash to some malnourished Burmese kids on MW2.


RE: DX11 Achievement
By CHAOQIANG on 1/26/10, Rating: 0
RE: DX11 Achievement
By sigmatau on 1/21/2010 10:35:44 PM , Rating: 2
Is that's why you don't believe in global warming? You don't understand science, nor math very well?


RE: DX11 Achievement
By tastyratz on 1/21/2010 10:53:25 AM , Rating: 2
yes and no... we are talking about 7% of products sold... and according to this http://www.eetasia.com/ART_8800567476_499495_NT_cf... They were 19% marketshare early 2009... so 1.33% of computer sales are going to the premium market out of the total number of computers purchased by people who still have jobs that can afford them.

In the grand scheme of things if you elaborate a little it sounds a lot less impressive unfortunately


RE: DX11 Achievement
By CZroe on 1/21/2010 3:58:02 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder if Wii GPUs are included in the 35m figure... I mean, they were still ArtX when they designed it for the Gamecube before ATI bought them and had them apply the tech to their Radeon 9700-series GPU.

Yeah, ATI had their logo on every Wii and Gamecube ever made, but does it REALLY count? If they are still getting paid per GPU, I guess so, otherwise, I would hope not.


RE: DX11 Achievement
By WUMINJUN on 1/25/2010 8:49:48 AM , Rating: 1
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Deja vu
By cutmeister on 1/21/2010 8:22:52 AM , Rating: 2
I seem to recall TSMC saying yield issues for their 40 nm process had been fixed last year. Hopefully it's really true this time.




RE: Deja vu
By shin0bi272 on 1/21/2010 9:12:32 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Phase 4, which began volume 40nm production in the third quarter of last year.


um yep


RE: Deja vu
By DanNeely on 1/21/2010 9:17:30 AM , Rating: 5
It did; it's just that most of the volume consisted of defective chips.


fishy
By Ben on 1/21/2010 10:27:02 PM , Rating: 2
Funny how they "fixed" their 40nm problem right before NVidia is ready with their new design.

Couldn't be that they were "urged" to limit production of ATI products until NVidia was ready...

Na...




Incorrect fab terminology
By Eskimo on 1/22/2010 2:57:36 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Semiconductors are made in lithography chambers, and the process can be comprised of several hundred steps. Usually a new manufacturing process is developed and refined in a test fab and then transferred to production lines in a process called Chamber Matching. This theoretically ensures standard conformity and higher yields. There were several problems with chamber matching on TSMC's 40nm lines, leading to yield problems despite using the same process and recipes.


Lot's of problems with this paragraph. First lithography tools in use today don't have chambers, they have chucks.

Etch and Deposition tools which use partial or sub atmospheric processes have chambers. When we chamber match it means we need our etch and deposition chambers to remove or add material at the same rate/uniformity as the other chambers on the same platform. Most etch/dep tools in use at a fab like TSMC are 2-4 chambers per platform.

When a lot of wafers (usually 25) arrives at a step they are divided amongst the chambers for time savings. If each chamber is performing differently when the wafers are recombined into the lot they will each have different film thickness results, most all of which at 40nm node are critical to device functionality and performance. Subsequent processes may be batch meaning all 25 wafers receive the same treatment. This can be disasterous if your within lot variation from unmatched chambers is large. Options are match your chambers (takes time, money, brains) or dedicate chambers (slows down production, limits output).

The method of developing a process in a development fab and then later transferring to a production fab is a very real process but no one in the industry that I'm aware of refers to it as chamber matching. It is a technology transfer process which each company has it's own strategy for, the most famous of which is Intel's Copy Exact method.




OIH
By OKMIJN4455 on 1/24/10, Rating: 0
"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton














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