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Will Intel Have a Bigger FinFET Market Share Than TSMC in 2015?

Will Intel Have a Bigger FinFET Market Share Than TSMC in 2015?
by Daniel Nenni on 08-05-2014 at 10:00 pm

 Speculation is running rampant after last month’s conference call where Dr. Morris Chang, who is often referred to as “The Chairman”, commented that at 16nm TSMC will have a smaller market share than a major competitor in 2015. TSMC will however regain the FinFET lead in 2016 and 2017. Of course the blogosphere went crazy on this which resulted in a hefty TSM stock price drop and some lengthy calls for me with Wall Street. Everybody, including myself, speculated that the major competitor referenced is Samsung. Is the Chairman using strategy to motivate the troops or does he really think TSMC will lose the first wave of FinFET designs? Now that the dust has settled let’s take another look at this hotly debated topic but first a little background:

SoC design increases in complexity as the architecture changes: 32 to 64 bit for example. Apple made this change with the iPhone 5s last year using the Samsung 28nm HKMG process node. Apple’s prior SoCs for the iPhone5 and iPhone 4s were also HKMG (Samsung 32nm) so this was more of an architectural design challenge versus a process design challenge. The other SoC vendors will not have 64 bit architectures in production until 2015 so this was not a trivial engineering feat.

SoC design also increases in complexity as more functions are integrated. The next big integration challenge will be putting a high speed radio (modem) on a 64 bit SoC using FinFETs. QCOM has both the leading mobile SoC and leading mobile modem and has already integrated them at 28nm. But I would not count Apple out since they have an experienced modem team working on it and they already have a 64-bit architecture in production.

SoC design at leading edge nodes is extremely challenging as we can see by the delays in 20nm and 14nm. TSMC 20nm was delayed six months and Intel 14nm is more than a year late. TSMC 16nm and Samsung 14nm are not in production yet but will no doubt be later than we all expected. Delays happen when you challenge the laws of physics as we do most every day, absolutely.

Now let’s go back to the conference call and look at a key piece of information in the Q&A that most people glossed over:

Elizabeth Sun: “Randy’s question is with respect to Chairman’s comment on 2015’s market share is lower than a major competitor in 2015. So Randy’s asking why will it be lower and what is the impact to TSMC if we have a lower market share. And what gives us the confidence that we will regain the market share in following year?”

Morris Chang – TSMC – Chairman: “Oh, okay. Well, we need to go back to history a little bit. 32 — 28-nanometer followed 32 and that particular major competitor that I referred to, chose 32 and skipped 28. And then of course we came to 20 and 16, 16 for us, 14 for him. And we chose to do both. Actually we chose to do 20 first and 16 about a year or so later, but it was a pretty quick succession. And this major competitor skipped 20 and went on to 16.”

As I mentioned, Samsung did both 32nm and 28nm. Intel did 32nm and skipped 28nm so it seems the Chairman was referring to Intel as the competitor that will have a larger 14/16nm foundry market share in 2015, not Samsung. Comments?

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