TSMC’s N3E reportedly enters production sooner than expected

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According to a Morgan Stanley report, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. is delaying the production schedule for its N3E manufacturing technology by about a quarter. This move will accelerate the availability of many 3nm models, but don’t expect many of them to be available anytime soon.

TSMC’s N3E node was explicitly designed to improve the processing window to speed up yield time, increase yields, increase performance and reduce horsepower. The report says all of this would be accomplished at the cost of lower transistor density than the original N3. Initially, TSMC planned to start high-volume manufacturing (HVM) using N3E about a year after N3 HVM start-up, sometime in Q3 2023. But since N3E’s test production yields are already high, TSMC wants to start to use it commercially earlier, sometimes in the second trimester. 2023.

“Our recent checks with equipment vendors suggest that TSMC may freeze N3E process flow sooner – by the end of March,” said the Morgan Stanley report cited by RetiredEngineer. “This means that volume production of N3E could begin in Q2 2023, about a quarter ahead of the original Q3 2023 schedule. Test production yield is much higher for N3E than for N3B. Our checks suggest that the logic density of N3E is only about 8% lower than the original N3 by cutting four EUV layers, but it is still 60% denser than 5nm. All this makes a competitive node for TSMC in terms of cost and time.

TSMC’s cutting-edge nodes are usually developed in close collaboration with alpha customers willing to pay extra for early access and accept some risk, so these nodes are tailored to their needs. TSMC’s largest customer today is Apple, but as companies like AMD, Intel, and MediaTek increase their orders, the foundry is more willing to tailor its nodes to those customers. Apple will probably adopt the N3 before anyone else.

TSMC’s N3E was never intended to replace the N3, but to provide a wider choice of manufacturing parameters to achieve decent yields, performance improvements and lower power, which will benefit all TSMC customers. . Given the goals, it’s no surprise that TSMC and its customers are getting faster returns with this technology and therefore can reduce their production schedules if it makes sense.

Even if TSMC cuts N3E production by a quarter, that doesn’t mean all of its customers will adjust their schedules. In addition, nothing changes for N3: TSMC is on track to start production using this node in Q3 2022 and deliver the first chips in early 2023, given the long production cycles. With all of these facts in mind, we don’t expect an influx of 3nm-based designs (made either by TSMC using its N3/N3E nodes or by Samsung Foundry on its 3GAE node) on market earlier than Q3 to Q4 2023.

Teradyne, a manufacturer of test equipment for chips, recently confirmed that a significant 3nm ramp (beyond Apple and Samsung Electronics) can be expected in 2023. While early risers might propose their 3nm chips in early 2023, other players will still catch up. with them in the second half of next year at the earliest.

“The move to 3nm volume production is pushed back to 2023,” Teradyne chief executive Mark Jagiela said in a recent conference call (via SearchAlpha). “[…] We expect demand to accelerate again in 2023 as we begin to see growth in complexity from investments in 3nm, gate-all-around and advanced packaging.

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