Samsung Now Producing 16Gb LPDDR5 With Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography
Samsung has announced the production of 16Gb LPDDR5 memory modules on its 10nm-class “1z” foundry node. These chips will be the first LPDDR5 modules built using extreme ultraviolet lithography, which both Samsung and TSMC are in the process of deploying. Samsung, however, made the decision to integrate EUV directly with its first-generation 7nm node, while TSMC decided to tackle that process in two steps. So far, TSMC seems to have made the better bet — though getting EUV LPDDR5 out the door should help Samsung fill foundry lines.
The RAM is built at the second production line in Pyeongtaek, Korea. According to Samsung, Pyeongtaek, Line 2 is the largest semiconductor production line ever built. If TSMC is a pure-play foundry with no hardware that it builds for its own uses, and Intel is a dedicated IDM that builds very little equipment that it doesn’t sell itself, Samsung is a hybrid. It manufactures its own chips and RAM with its fabs, but it also engages with customers and acts as a client foundry.
Line 2 itself is intended to build DRAM, V-NAND, and “foundry” solutions — no word on what those might be. Samsung has historically built its own Exynos CPU cores, but the company closed its Austin development center and has ended development on its own mobile core. The M-family never competed all that effectively against other solutions, and the gap between it and its competitors has been growing in recent years.
As for overall EUV manufacturing, at its technical summit last week, TSMC claimed to hold roughly half the world’s installed EUV machines and to have shipped 60 percent of its total wafers. That’s not a huge surprise; with Intel having pushed back its 7nm node and associated EUV injection point, only two companies — Samsung and TSMC — are going to be running much in the way of EUV volume. Intel likely has some testing and evaluation hardware, but it’s going to account for a minority of total tool shipments.
According to Samsung, the new DRAM is about 1.16x faster than the 12Gb LPDDR5 devices it built previously and supports 6.4GB/s memory transfers. The new DRAM devices are 30 percent thinner than previously, which will allow for thinner products in some cases, and the capacity bump allows for a smaller number of total chips, but there’s no word on power or efficiency improvements. Presumably whatever the company gained as a result of EUV (if anything) was absorbed by higher clocks.
There’s going to be a disconnect between the way companies talk about EUV and the actual impact the new lithography technology will have on shipping products. The improvements from EUV on power and performance are small to nil, at least in direct terms. There are some density savings in some applications and yields should improve due to the (theoretically) improved quality of the underlying lithography, but nothing that’s going to upend the industry from a consumer perspective. EUV is a technology that we’ve developed for decades and absolutely require to continue to move lithography forward, but it’s more important for the other advances it enables in other areas of manufacturing than for direct improvements to performance or power.