The quiet revolution. Samsung 7LPP EUV starts production.

Posted on 10/17/2018 by

Bob Stear

The semiconductor industry’s long-awaited transition to extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography took an important step forward this week with Samsung’s announcement that its foundry business has started production of chips manufactured with our groundbreaking 7-nanometer (nm) LPP (Low Power Plus) EUV manufacturing process.

This industry milestone means that our 7LPP EUV process is ready to produce fully-functional chips for our customers and partners to design into a variety of exciting new products.

Qualcomm Technologies, for instance, announced plans earlier this year to use our EUV process for its next generation of Snapdragon™ 5G mobile chipsets. EUV technology enables these new chips to be smaller and less power-hungry than previous 4G chips, giving system designers extended battery life and slimmer designs.

We expect the chips that will be coming off our EUV production line to end up not only in next generation smartphones, but also in autonomous vehicles, hyperscale datacenters, high-performance computing and networking equipment, as well as powering the most advanced artificial intelligence (AI) applications.

Moving forward, we’ll be systematically increasing the output of EUV chips at our S3 fab in Hwaseong, Korea, while completing another new $6 billion fab nearby that will be available for to expand even higher-volume EUV production in 2020.

A long time coming

EUV lithography research started more than three decades ago (see EUV Milestones), after the semiconductor industry realized that to continue squeezing twice as many transistors onto new generations of chips every two years – as predicted by Moore’s Law – it would need lithography tools capable of producing smaller, much more detailed circuit patterns. The best way to create those ultra-small chip features, they concluded, was with EUV radiation, which is invisible to the human eye and close to X-rays on the high-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Decades later, its 13.5-nm wavelength is far narrower than the 193nm light being used to etch circuit patterns in current optical lithography systems.

Harnessing EUV radiation hasn’t been easy though. Unlike light in the visible spectrum, it cannot travel through air or be focused by lenses. As a result, EUV lithography has to take place in a complete vacuum, using mirrors coated with multi-layer reflective films to guide and focus the radiation beam. It has also required developing new mask-making technology and photosensitive resist materials, not to mention much more powerful plasma-driven light sources.

Industry leaders in the early days of EUV R&D were confident that all those obstacles could eventually be overcome. Yet few realized that it would take several more decades, and billions of dollars of industry investment to bring EUV lithography into commercial production.

EUV Commercial Production

Despite those challenges, Samsung Foundry has emerged as the clear leader in EUV technology. We’re fully committed to an aggressive rollout of high volume EUV manufacturing capability. Over the past decade, we’ve exposed a significant number of EUV wafers while developing and fine-tuning the technology that’s now being used in our 7LPP EUV manufacturing process.

We’ve been one of the biggest customers of ASML, the industry’s main supplier of EUV lithography equipment. In 2012, we invested nearly $1 billion in that company, including nearly $650 million for a minority 3 percent ownership stake, to help support ASML’s ambitious EUV development program.

We’re also working with a variety of ecosystem partners to develop key blocks of silicon-validated intellectual property (IP) that customers, starting next year, will be able to easily incorporate into their own products. One of the centerpieces in our 7LPP EUV IP portfolio will be a 112 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) serializer/deserializer (SerDes) block that will allow chip designers to add extremely high-performance data center and networking capabilities to their devices.

And, because we’re Samsung, we’ll of course be offering several flavors of high-performance memory IP, including the latest high-bandwidth memory (HBM) and GDDR6 DRAM memory.

Bright Future

With 7nm LPP EUV, we expect to significantly speed up the chip-making process by requiring fewer masks and eliminating many of the extra steps required by previous multi-patterning processes. And while there’s no doubt that this latest generation of technology has been very expensive to develop, with EUV production tools costing well over $100 million apiece, the economic benefits of being able to produce more, better, and faster devices will ultimately drive down per-chip costs and fuel a major new wave of semiconductor industry growth.

Clearly, the development of EUV lithography has been difficult, costly and a long time coming. But now that Samsung is finally on the verge of full-scale commercial production, we’re even more excited about its prospects. We see EUV as a truly revolutionary technology with the potential to extend Moore’s Law for at least another decade.

Forged from decades of relentless work, let the quiet EUV revolution begin.

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