When Samsung announced earlier this year that it had started volume production of chips using its 3GAE (3nm-class, gate-all-around early) process technology, it never revealed what kind of components it made on its leading-edge node. As it appears, Samsung uses 3GAE to fab an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) for cryptocurrency mining.
Samsung 3GAE fabrication technology is the industry's first process that relies on gate-all-around (GAA) transistors which Samsung calls MBCFETs (multi-bridge channel field-effect transistors). GAA transistor architecture reduces leakage current as the gate is now surrounded by the channel across all four sides; it also enables alteration of transistor performance and power consumption by adjusting the channel's thickness of the channel(s). GAAFETs are particularly beneficial for high-performance and mobile applications, which is why companies like Intel and TSMC are working hard to use them in 2024 – 2025.
But it looks like the first commercial chip to use GAAFETs is a cryptocurrency mining ASIC, according to TrendForce. The company will produce mobile system-on-chips using the 3GAE fabrication process only next year, analysts from TrendForce believe.
Cryptocurrency mining chips are good vehicles to pipe clean a new manufacturing technology as they are relatively simple, small, and contain numerous similar units and structures that can be used for redundancy to achieve acceptable yields. By contrast, mobile SoCs integrate loads of completely different parts that use different transistor structures, making it impossible to build redundant units. That said, it is logical for Samsung to use crypto-mining ASICs to learn more about the performance, power, and defect density of its 3GAE node. Therefore, SMIC also used a MinerVa mining ASIC to test its 7nm-class node.
While Samsung is usually formally ahead of TSMC and Intel with all-new nodes, in many cases, similar chips made at TSMC can run faster and reach higher yields. Perhaps, the company sets too aggressive goals that cannot be achieved simultaneously. Still, it looks like Samsung's 3GAE is good enough to manufacture cryptocurrency mining ASICs with mobile SoCs sometimes coming later.
When exactly is perhaps a more important question, as Samsung usually introduces its all-new SoCs for its flagship smartphones early in the year. Using its 3GAE node to make an advanced SoC would be beneficial for its smartphones, though it looks like 3GAE may not be ready to meet Samsung's schedule for its next-generation Galaxy S handset.