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Samsung kicks off 3-nanometer chip production, beating TSMC and Intel

The race to 3 nm: Samsung ushered in the era of 3-nanometer chip technology with its mass production announcement on Thursday, beating rivals TSMC and Intel to the punch, per TechCrunch.

  • The first-generation 3 nm chips have a 16% smaller surface area, a 45% reduction in power usage, and a 23% performance improvement over 5-nanometer chips like Apple’s M1 and M2 chips.
  • Samsung, the world’s largest chipmaker by revenue, is already working on the second-generation 3 nm chips for production in 2023. They’ll have 50% lower power consumption.
  • The chips will be produced at Samsung's 289,000-square-meter facility in Pyeongtaek, the world’s largest semiconductor operation.
  • TSMC said in June that it would begin mass-producing a 3 nm chip in volume by the second half of 2022.
  • Intel, which manufactures 7 nm chips, has had a hard time getting to 5 nm and revealed it may instead adopt TSMC’s 5 nm process for upcoming PC and tablet chips.

Why it’s worth watching: Samsung managed to juggle being the leading chipmaker, feeding chip demand during a global shortage, and innovating its chip design process.

  • Samsung’s announcement gives us a snapshot of the current state of semiconductor innovation, with the South Korean giant leapfrogging the competition. TSMC is a step behind, and Intel is two generations behind. 
  • Samsung’s jump to higher-performance 3 nm processors—which can be used in smartphones, tablets, PCs, smart home appliances, and even EVs—coincides with its plan to invest in chip production. The company is building a $17 billion chip fab in Texas, which will create 1,800 jobs when it opens in 2024.

US chip innovation threatened by stagnant chip bill: While chip technology seems to be advancing quickly, the same cannot be said about the $52 billion chip subsidies bill trapped in legislative limbo.

  • "We've already wasted several quarters since the Senate acted last year, and now it's time for us to move forward rapidly," Intel’s CEO Pat Gelsinger told Congress in March.
  • TSMC was planning a $12 billion Arizona chip plant for a 2023 open date but could decide to invest elsewhere if chip subsidies and incentives aren’t made available.
  • Intel has delayed groundbreaking at its Ohio fab because of congressional inaction.
  • Samsung could similarly shift direction away from the US, leading to a loss of jobs for the local economy and making it more expensive to import foreign-made Samsung semiconductors.