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.
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.