Samsung tees up the world’s first commercial EUV chips

Posted on 04/04/2018 by

Bob Stear

Extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography – a long-awaited and game-changing technology for producing ultra-small semiconductor circuit patterns – is finally moving from the research lab to the manufacturing line. And Samsung Foundry, I’m pleased to report, will be the first company to put this promising technology into commercial production.

Samsung Foundry has been developing EUV technology for years, in partnership with Netherlands-based ASML Holdings and other key technology suppliers. During that time, we’ve produced hundreds of thousands of test devices, including fully-validated 256 megabit (Mb) static random-access memory (SRAM) chips.

By the second half of this year we expect all the pieces to be in place to start mass-producing the world’s first EUV chips on our new S3 manufacturing line in Hwaseong, Korea. Meanwhile, to provide additional capacity and an alternate manufacturing source, we recently broke ground for a second EUV line in Hwaseong. It should be ready to start production in 2020 at an estimated cost of $6 billion.

Nano-scale features

Both these production lines will run our new 7-nanometer (nm) LPP (Low Power Plus) EUV manufacturing process, which uses high-energy EUV light to create chips with ultra-fine device features with critical dimensions as small as 7nm. For comparison, a common virus cell is 10nm across, and a microscopic strand of DNA is roughly 2.5nm wide, while individual silicon atoms measure slightly less than 1nm.

Long-term, EUV technology will enable us to build the next several generation of chips with ever-shrinking nano-scale features, while squeezing increasing amounts of functionality onto each chip. In the near term, it will help us produce chips that use less power, require fewer mask layers, and take less time to design and manufacture than a traditional multi-patterned process.

Compared to Samsung Foundry’s current leading-edge 10nm technology, we expect our 7LPP EUV process to reduce the manufacturing complexity, requiring fewer processing steps and producing better yields. Specifically, we expect the new process to provide up to 40 percent better area efficiency (room to add new features!), along with 10 percent higher performance, and up to 35 percent less power consumption.

We announced our first customer for our new 7LPP EUV process technology in February, when Qualcomm chose our Samsung Foundry to build its latest Snapdragon™ 5G mobile chipsets. Qualcomm expects the chipsets, which are intended for cellphones and other mobile devices, to have a smaller footprint than previous designs. That, in turn, will provide more usable space inside upcoming products to support larger batteries or slimmer designs, as well as achieving significantly improved battery life through process improvements and more advanced design.

Using fewer masks

Chipmakers use high-resolution photomasks to transfer the intricate circuit patterns of each chip onto the surface of silicon wafers coated with photosensitive chemicals. These masks act as stencils that selectively allow some areas of the chip to be exposed to high-intensity light, while others are shielded.

An important advantage of EUV lithography is that it requires only one mask and exposure for each layer of a chip’s design. Without EUV complex multi-patterning techniques are required at the 7nm level, so this is a very significant improvement. In a multi-patterned process the circuit patterns to be etched onto each chip layer are first divided between as many as four photomasks. The masks must then be carefully positioned and, one after the next, exposed by intense light to project the desired pattern onto each layer of the chip, which is then chemically etched to remove the exposed areas. Those steps are repeated many times until all the features to be printed on the wafer are complete. This time-consuming process, which is used to create hundreds of chips on a 12-inch diameter silicon wafer, can easily take a full day for each of the masks. EUV eliminates these complex and costly multi-patterning steps and completes the same task using a single exposure.

Other EUV Benefits

While the development of EUV lithography has perhaps been slower than expected and has faced numerous technical challenges, it offers a way to bring the industry back to single mask patterning, drive us farther down the single digit nanometer technology path, and to remove a great deal of complexity from the design and manufacturing process. With EUV, you’re not only reducing the need for a lot of expensive masks, you’re also opting for a process that requires significantly fewer processing steps that will speed a product through the fab quickly compared to today’s multi-patterned methods. EUV lithography will also help to reduce the effort of designing new chips by simplifying engineers’ design flows and reducing the complexity of design validation.

I fully expect the coming EUV era to result in faster, better chips rolling off the assembly line in substantially less time. It will significantly speed your new product’s time to market by a month or more while meeting your customer’s requirements in the big data and high performance computing driven era of hyperscale datacenters, high performance networking, AI, ML, and fully autonomous driving. Now that’s a really big deal for the industry, and one that’s been worth waiting for!

EUV. 7LPP. Samsung Foundry. Bringing you the future of design and manufacturing.

Interested in learning more about Samsung’s new 7nm LPP EUV? Register to attend our Samsung Foundry Forum on Tuesday, May 22 at the Santa Clara Marriott.

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