Samsung has a new horse in the endless race to make computer processors smaller, faster, and less power-hungry. In 2024, the Korean tech giant plans to start manufacturing processors with a second version of the technology that its main rivals have yet to offer as a first-generation approach.
The technology, called all-around gate or GAA, is an enhancement of a processor’s core elements, the tiny on-off switches called transistors. Chipmakers change transistor designs every year, but GAA is an overhaul.
Samsung’s second-generation GAA technology will reduce transistor size by about 20 percent compared to the first generation, which the company started using in June, said Moonsoo Kang, executive vice president in charge of its chip manufacturing.
Improved chip circuits are crucial to supporting advances in computing, whether making smartwatches that don’t need to be charged as often, speeding up graphics on gaming PCs, or to create new artificial intelligence accelerators in smartwatches and data centers. But in recent years, that progress has slowed. The cost per transistor is now increasing for companies that want to benefit from the latest chip manufacturing technology.
“We are investing heavily in GAA technology,” Kang said Monday during a press conference at the Samsung Foundry Forum event in San Jose, California. Samsung makes chips for phones, laptops, cars, cameras, data centers and other markets.
The first generation, called SF3E, proved that Samsung could mass-produce GAA technology, and the second generation, called SF3, will miniaturize it. “By doing this, we’re also improving performance and power,” Kang said.
GAA offers improvements that should sustain the chip industry for a few more years. “It’s an important technology, and it’s been a long time coming,” said Bob O’Donnell, Technalysis Research Analyst.
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Samsung’s electronics division designs its own chips for smartphones, data centers, cars and other markets. But a separate division, Samsung Foundry, builds processors for the company and rivals like Qualcomm.
The foundry business has boomed during the COVID pandemic as computer device makers scrambled to meet new demand for gadgets such as phones, tablets and PCs. One of the biggest beneficiaries has been Samsung Foundry’s main rival, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Samsung expects revenue from its foundry business to triple from 2019 to 2027.
The semiconductor industry, named for the silicon-based materials that are fundamental to turning transistors on and off, has seen a tear, but intense spending could decline. “Global Semiconductor sales growth has stagnated in recent monthsJohn Neuffer, chief executive of the Semiconductor Industry Association, said in a statement Monday.
GAA is an essential basis for processor progression, but it is not the only one. Intel, which lost chipmaking leadership to Samsung and TSMC years ago, hopes to regain its leadership by 2024 and surpass these rivals by 2025. Intel’s first gate around transistors are expected to debut in 2024 with a manufacturing process called Intel 20A.
Intel has another trick up its sleeve with 20A, however, called PowerVia. This is a technology called backside power delivery that splits the tasks of powering transistors and communicating with them on opposite sides of a chip. Today, both tasks are crammed to one side, but providing power from the rear should improve chip performance.
Samsung plans to integrate rear-end power delivery into its 2026 manufacturing process, Kang said. This will come with an improvement in second-generation GAA technology, a manufacturing process called SF2P.
Samsung Foundry also added a new “node” to its manufacturing plans on Monday, a 2027 process called SF1.4. The company hasn’t released details on what changes this will bring, but sharing long-term plans can reassure customers that Moore’s Law, while slower, continues to evolve.