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Date: 09-08-15

Semiconductor fab race: Intel, TSMC, Glofo, Samsung neck to neck, SMIC fast catching

While the difficulty level of scaling semiconductor chips smaller is rising to the highest possible level, the competition among the semiconductor foundries is getting closer. After Intel started mass production of 14 nm chips, closely with in few months TSMC started producing 16 nm chips. When it comes to manufacturing 10 nm and 7 nm chips, both Intel and TSMC are even closer, according to most of the reported estimation.

If this is about the two largest semiconductor fabs in the world, the two other leading foundries are also catching up faster. Globalfoundries with acquisition of IBM's semiconductor business is also producing 14 nm chips. Another IBM partner Samsung started volume production of 14 nm chips few months back in the 2nd quarter of 2015. It is easy to estimate having 3-4 fabs ready with 10nm process at same time. IBM is faster in achieving 7nm samples.

So Intel, TSMC globalfoundries and Samsung are all neck to neck in this race. Even more interesting is UMC and SMIC catching up faster. UMC started volume production of 28 nm chips one year back, and looks to be very close to starting 16 nm production. China-based SMIC said, it could produce lots of Qualcomm snapdragon chipset using 28 nm node, and is already powering a lot of smart phones manufactured in China.

If you are fables IC chip vendor, now you have a lot of scope to negotiate with your IC foundry on the cost. We have seen Apple shuffling between Samsung and TSMC in making its chips for Apple iPhone. We will see more of that trend, where leading fabless companies such as Qualcomm getting its chips fabricated from multiple foundries.

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