HomeTech NewsTSMC killed the 450mm wafer that fit a lot more chips. ...

TSMC killed the 450mm wafer that fit a lot more chips. And thanks to that he won that war

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The chips that dominate the world come from the famous silicon wafers, and most of them arrive in a format that has become the de facto standard in the industry: 300mm wafer.

That format was created in 2002, so you would think that by now things would have evolved. They should have, but the hypothetical 450mm wafers that were going to launch in 2013 never did. And the fault was TSMC.

Everyone wanted 450mm wafers

The evolution of silicon wafers was constant for three decades. From those of 76 mm (3 inches) of 1972, they passed to those of 150 mm (5.9 inches, although they were directly known as “six inches”) in 1983. A little less than a decade passed before they arrived in 1992 200mm wafers, and finally, in 2002, the 300mm we currently use.

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And is it already? Was there no more evolution? Well, there could be. The debate about what the next step should be was already underway in 2009: Intel, TSMC and Samsung separately presented their proposals to create manufacturing plants (‘fabs’) capable of producing 450mm wafers.

It was one thing to say it and quite another to do it. Although these companies claimed that they could have a prototype plant ready in 2012, analysts assured that the cost in R&D would be absolutely exorbitant.

The objective was certainly ambitious and the times were lengthened. In 2012 – when things were supposed to be advanced – neither Intel nor Samsung nor TSMC had advanced much, but they all joined forces.

They did so together with IBM, Globalfoundries and Nikon to create the Global 450mm Consortium (G450C), which aimed to make the joint leap to 450mm silicon wafers. Everything seemed to indicate that this great alliance would bear fruit, but it did not: In 2017 the G450C began to fade away and little by little its members distanced themselves from the project.

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450mm wafers would never become a reality. The question is,why did it fail the project?

TSMC did not want to make the leap

The truth is that it failed because TSMC wanted it to fail. That’s how I told it Chiang Shang-Yi, COO of TSMC at the time and was therefore ultimately ultimately responsible for helping to build his company into the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer. He would end up achieving it, as can be seen in the following graph:

killed-the-450mm-wafer-that-fit-a-lot-more.jpeg 450w, https://i.blogs.es/7b008f/captura-de-pantalla-2022-08-09-a-las-17.01.59/650_1200.jpeg 681w,https://i.blogs.es/7b008f/captura-de-pantalla-2022-08-09-a-las-17.01.59/1024_2000.jpeg 1024w, https://voonze.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/TSMC-killed-the-450mm-wafer-that-fit-a-lot-more.jpeg 1366w," src="https://voonze.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/TSMC-killed-the-450mm-wafer-that-fit-a-lot-more.jpeg" alt="Screenshot 2022 08 09 At 17 01 59">

Market capitalization of Intel, TSMC and Samsung since 2007, in billions of dollars. Data: CompaniesMarketCap. Own elaboration.

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In a recent interview with the Computer History Museum, Chiang explained what the real point of that jump was: moving to a larger wafer theoretically favored production capacity, but he claimed that “That’s not exactly true. Rather it is a game. It’s a game for the big guy to gain an advantage over the little guy.“.

For TSMC, driving the jump to 300mm wafers in the past had been a good move, because it had allowed it to get ahead of smaller companies. For them it was a step forward, but as that executive related, the shot could backfire if they bet on the jump to 450 mm wafers.

Chiang recalled how he arrived at the office of TSMC CEO at the time, Morris Chang, and told him that they should not make that investment and that effort. TSMC had relatively easily outdistanced its smaller competitors with 300mm wafers, but if it made the jump to 450mm wafers it would no longer compete with them: it would compete even more with Intel and Samsung. As the executive explained,

“In the past, our competitors were UMC, SMIC, and those guys are much smaller than us. If we promote 450mm, we will gain more advantage from them. But now we only have two competitors, Intel and Samsung. They are both bigger than us , so that won’t help us at all. It will actually hurt us“.

Both Intel and Samsung had more engineers and more financial resources, which would have allowed them to just what TSMC didn’t want: that they take even more advantage than they had at that time. “So Morris Chang started to realize that it wasn’t the right move at the time.”

The decision was made: the jump to 450 mm would not be promotedbut an excuse had to be made, so Chang decided to announce that instead of going for 450mm wafers, TSMC’s priority would be to develop advanced technology.

The key meeting occurred at the 2013 SEMICON West conference. There Intel, Samsung and TSMC were meeting with ASML, and the head of Intel—Bill Holt of the Technology and Manufacturing Group division—spoke first. He did it to reiterate his support for this project of making the leap to 450mm wafers.

Chiang, who was next to speak, communicated TSMC’s decision. Hearing her, Holt stormed out of the room, but the next day Intel announced a change in its plans: Their priority was no longer 450mm wafers, but the development of advanced technologies.

That was the end of 450mm wafers“, concluded Chang. “And since then no one talks about it anymore.”

Despite this, the then CEO of Intel, Brian Krzanich, would continue to insist that they supported such a jump shortly after. At TSMC they also did not seem to rule out This objective was clearly stated, and in August 2013 its managers stated that the first production plant for these wafers was “up and running”.

Shortly after the effort completely faded. Actually, there is still some debate and even those wafers are produced on a limited basis, but of course TSMC was apparently the main culprit that this jump did not occur then. The question is whether now that they lead this segment they will have changed their minds.

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