AMD Reportedly Eyes Samsung Chip Fab Deal in Dual-Source Strategy

GlobalFoundries
(Image credit: GlobalFoundries)

TSMC remains poised to produce CPUs, GPUs, SoCs, and FPGAs for AMD on its leading-edge fabrication processes for years to come. However, AMD will keep outsourcing production of its older products to GlobalFoundries and Samsung Foundry, according to DigiTimes. Given the current geopolitical situation, one might speculate that the chip designer is exploring SF as a potential alternative not only to GF, but to TSMC as well. 

Older Products for Now

DigiTimes claims that TSMC will make Zen 4 and Zen 5-based products for AMD using its N5/N4 (5nm and 4nm-class) and N3 (3nm-class) fabrication processes in the coming years. Meanwhile, GlobalFoundries and Samsung Foundry will produce AMD's processors based on older Zen and Zen+ microarchitectures as well as previous-generation GPUs using SF 14LPP and GF 12LP production nodes.  

This is not the first time we've heard of AMD working with Samsung Foundry to produce some of its chips. For example, last August, TechGoing reported that AMD would outsource some of its older products to Samsung Foundry. Keeping in mind that GlobalFoundries licensed Samsung's 14LPE and 14LPP technologies, it is easy for AMD to dual-source some of its older products. In fact, AMD confirmed (opens in new tab) to analyst Patrick Moorhead in 2016 that it could use Samsung Foundry's capacities if needed.  

GlobalFoundries is busy producing chips for various customers, including Intel, Qualcomm, MediaTek, and NXP. So AMD might want to secure additional 12nm/14nm-class capacity at Samsung Foundry for a just-in-case scenario. Meanwhile, considering the current geopolitical situation, AMD may explore Samsung Foundry as a potential alternative to TSMC. Here is why.

Possibly Something New Later

Once AMD's leading production partner, GlobalFoundries ceased to develop leading-edge process technologies in 2018 as it pivoted to specialty production nodes. When the company switches to a specialized sub-10nm fabrication process, the bulk of AMD's primary requirements will probably shift to 5nm-class or even 3nm-class manufacturing technologies. As a result, AMD might outsource some of its parts requiring specialty nodes to GlobalFoundries, but we would not expect GF to produce mass-market products for AMD soon. 

By contrast, Samsung Foundry keeps developing leading-edge fabrication technologies as it competes fiercely against TSMC. While Samsung Foundry's yields on leading-edge fabrication processes are reportedly not as high as those of TSMC, the company can offer its services to chip designers that require leading-edge technologies. 

For now, the skies are blue for TSMC. But if tensions between China, Taiwan, and the U.S. lead to a military conflict or even China's invasion of Taiwan, AMD will need an alternative to the world's largest foundry. For now, the only other option for TSMC is Samsung Foundry, as Intel Foundry Services' (IFS) 20A technology won't be available to fabless chip designers until 2024.  

Of course, AMD is almost certainly exploring IFS and its future nodes, just like other leading chip developers.

Some Thoughts

DigiTimes and TechGoing both reported about AMD's outsourcing to SF within a matter of six months. Working with Samsung Foundry allows AMD to learn how to collaborate with this contract maker of chips, how to use its packaging, and what to generally expect from SF. 

AMD's possible intention to use Samsung Foundry's leading-edge production nodes if something occurs to TSMC is our speculation not confirmed by any industry source at this point. To use Samsung Foundry's advanced technologies, AMD would need to redesign its chips for SF's nodes, which costs hundreds of millions of dollars, which is a lot of money even for AMD. Yet, if the situation between China, Taiwan, and the U.S. becomes dire, AMD's experience with GlobalFoundries could become more than valuable. 

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • -Fran-
    If AMD can strike a deal and source RAM modules so they have a good discount for GPUs and regular RAM, that would help them a lot, I'd say.

    Specially on the HBM side for their Data Center stuff and, maybe, consumer :D

    One can dream :P

    Regards.
    Reply
  • TechieTwo
    It would be smart business practices especially with China's instability.
    Reply
  • ottonis
    I fully agree with the author. Diversification is mandatory in order to stay safe. Even if it's quite costly, collaborating with Samsung alongside TSMC is a smart and and anticipatory move by AMD not only in case something happens to TSMC but also in order to optimize future products from both sides of the production chain.
    Reply
  • TechieTwo
    traxxmy said:
    Its USA itself that cause all this chaos and instability when they know they can't compete then they switch to blockage. Whole Asia is quite smart that we distance ourself from the West and time to put greenback behind also

    The use of slave labor, child labor and the murder of protesters by the Chinese Communist Party are good reasons for the world to not conduct business with and to sanction the CCP.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    traxxmy said:
    Its USA itself that cause all this chaos and instability when they know they can't compete then they switch to blockage.
    This explanation doesn't make sense, when you consider that neither Taiwan nor South Korea are being sanctioned, yet both have more advanced semiconductor technology than the US, at present. Furthermore, China does not have the most advanced semiconductors.

    So, perhaps you need to try a little harder to find the reason.
    Reply
  • Nolonar
    bit_user said:
    This explanation doesn't make sense, when you consider that neither Taiwan nor South Korea are being sanctioned, yet both have more advanced semiconductor technology than the US, at present. Furthermore, China does not have the most advanced semiconductors.

    So, perhaps you need to try a little harder to find the reason.
    That's a non-sequitur. Nobody claimed that China has the most advanced semiconductors.

    The original claim was that one shouldn't conduct business with China due to its instability.
    The second claim was that China's instability was caused by the USA and their sanctions.

    So, perhaps you need to try a little harder to refute that claim.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Nolonar said:
    That's a non-sequitur. Nobody claimed that China has the most advanced semiconductors.
    The phrase "can't compete" is open to interpretation.

    Nolonar said:
    The original claim was that one shouldn't conduct business with China due to its instability.
    The second claim was that China's instability was caused by the USA and their sanctions.

    So, perhaps you need to try a little harder to refute that claim.
    My response wasn't addressed at claim 1, obviously. I was clearly questioning the rationale put forth as part of claim 2, which you omitted from your summary.

    Moreover, I cited counter-examples where the US hasn't used sanctions against trading partners that are out-competing it. That explanation was clearly too simplistic, yet I'm the one you take issue with?
    Reply
  • Co BIY
    ottonis said:
    I fully agree with the author. Diversification is mandatory in order to stay safe. Even if it's quite costly, collaborating with Samsung alongside TSMC is a smart and and anticipatory move by AMD not only in case something happens to TSMC but also in order to optimize future products from both sides of the production chain.

    Outside of the political, security and human rights issues - which cannot be discussed here without the comments sections getting shut down ...

    Getting three bids for any contract is always a good idea. It follows that it benefits purchasers to ensure that there are at least three providers to deal with.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Co BIY said:
    Getting three bids for any contract is always a good idea. It follows that it benefits purchasers to ensure that there are at least three providers to deal with.
    As the article mentions, the costs of migrating a design from one fab to another are simply massive. That's because each fab uses their own manufacturing process and has their own cell libraries tuned for it. Apparently, these cell libraries aren't just mix-n-match, plus you then have to redo layout. You might think of it like porting an operating system from one ISA (like x86) to another (like ARM). For that reason, chip designers typically chose a fab rather early in the design process and have to live with that decision.

    Lately, there's a trend towards using AI to automate at least the layout portion of chip design. So, that could not only be a huge cost & time-saver, but might also make it easier and cheaper to switch fabs.

    https://www.anandtech.com/show/16836/cadence-cerebrus-to-enable-chip-design-with-ml-ppa-optimization-in-hours-not-months
    Best of all, AI-driven chip layout seems to offer nearly a full node worth of improvement, compared with human-driven layout. For all we know, AMD is in fact using this move to trial these techniques and technology.
    Reply
  • Nolonar
    bit_user said:
    The phrase "can't compete" is open to interpretation.
    Hence the "non-sequitur". You jumped to a conclusion that didn't follow from the conversation.

    bit_user said:
    My response wasn't addressed at claim 1, obviously. I was clearly questioning the rationale put forth as part of claim 2, which you omitted from your summary.
    Sorry, but where in my post did I claim you were contesting the first claim rather than the second one? As you said, you obviously contested the second claim.

    And how exactly did I "omit claim 2 from the summary", when it is literally the second point of my summary?

    bit_user said:
    Moreover, I cited counter-examples where the US hasn't used sanctions against trading partners that are out-competing it. That explanation was clearly too simplistic, yet I'm the one you take issue with?
    And how are those counter-examples relevant to the claim you're trying to contest? Just because the USA didn't sanction some countries, it doesn't mean that China's instability is not caused by US sanctions. That's why I called it a non-sequitur.

    But if you so badly want someone to contest your own argument, regardless of whether it is relevant to the discussion or not: China is an economic superpower, like it or not. It is the second-largest one, making up 18.45% of the global economy with a growth of 8.1%, behind the USA's 23.93% and growth of 5.7%. South Korea is only the 10th largest economy and its growth is still behind the USA with 4%. Taiwan isn't even in the top 25. Why would the USA sanction trading partners that aren't even close to threatening its standing as global superpower, when China is "projected to surpass the American economy in the coming few years"?

    And just so there is no misunderstanding between us: I am not claiming that the USA is sanctioning China to maintain its lead as an economic superpower. I am claiming that the USA has more to gain from sanctioning China than from sanctioning South Korea or Taiwan (or both). And that's even without mentioning Capitalism vs Communism.

    If you want to contest that claim, you'll have to show a valid reason why the USA would prefer to sanction South Korea or Taiwan over China.
    Reply