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TSMC dossier (4): Technology contention among world-class leaders
Colley Hwang, DIGITIMES, Taipei 0

Intel claims that TSMC's 7nm process is the equivalent of Intel's 10nm process. This may be true in terms of tech specs but Intel hasn't really outraced still TSMC. Samsung, on several occasions, announced they led TSMC in launching more advanced process technologies, but it failed to secure key customers. For the foundry sector, announcing more advanced process nodes ahead of competitors doesn't necessarily mean success. Production yield rates, partnerships with suppliers and co-development with customers nmnplay more important roles.

At the 10nm node, TSMC achieves a silicon density of 53 million transistors per square millimeter while Samsung's transistor density arrives at 52 million. The two are neck and neck. But Intel's 10nm node features a density of 106 million transistors, even superior to the densities of 97 million transistors and 95 million transistors of TSMC's and Samsung's 7nm nodes respectively. But Intel hasn't won over customers with its front-running performance. The main issue is the yield rates for volume production and customer trust. Intel's 7nm technology puts up a high standard of 180 million transistors per square millimeter but it's only a benchmark for the high-tech sector but not commercially viable.

And TSMC seems to be pulling farther and farther ahead of Samsung in technology with its 5nm process achieving a density of 173 million transistors, which is comparable to the density of 180 million transistors Intel's 7nm process promises and beats the density of 170 million transistors Samsung's 3nm process boasts.

TSMC was also the first to largely incorporate EUV equipment into its production lines. In fact, more than half of the EUV equipment produced worldwide is being used by TSMC to churn out more than 70% of the global chip production. TSMC not only enjoys a high profit margin but in practice, it has also gained lots of hands-on experiences in controlling and improving the issue of dust on EUV masks. This allows TSMC to secure a 55% share of the foundry market and generate more than 80% of the global foundry revenue.

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(Editor's note: This is the fourth part of a series of analysis by DIGITIMES Asia president Colley Hwang about TSMC's competitiveness and the foundry sector.)

Colley Hwang, president of DIGITIMES Asia, is a tech industry analyst with more than three decades of experience under his belt. He has written several books about the trends and developments of the tech industry, including Asian Edge: On the Frontline of the ICT World published in 2019, and Disconnected ICT Supply Chain: New Power Plays Unfolding published in 2020.
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