TSMC hits 28nm capacity problems

April 9, 2012 // 8:50 a.m.

Tags: #28nm #amd #foundry #kepler #nvidia #qualcomm #semiconductor #southern-islands #taiwan #taiwan-semiconductor #tsmc

Taiwan Semiconductor has confirmed that it is experiencing capacity problems on its 28nm process node, causing issues for customers including AMD, Nvidia and Qualcomm.

According to anonymous industry sources speaking to semiconductor rumour-monger DigiTimes, TSMC's capacity for 28nm-based chips is failing to keep up with the demand from its customers. Some, in particular Qualcomm, are even being forced to look elsewhere with rival United Microelectronics rumoured to be benefiting from the company's troubles.

The news comes almost a month after rumours spread of a complete stoppage of 28nm production at TSMC due to a requirement for modifications to the company's production process. Quite what these modifications were, and why the company needed to stop production entirely to carry them out, was never made clear.

At the time, a TSMC spokesperson told us that 'our 28nm production is normal, and all our 28nm customers are fully aware of our production status.' Now, however, the company is singing a different tune.

Speaking to bit-tech, TSMC's Elizabeth Sun confirmed that there were issues at the 28nm process size. 'We are working very hard trying to solve the 28 nanometer capacity shortage issue,' Sun explained. 'Not only is our fab is trying to squeeze out more output, we are also working on a plan to increase capital spending for 28 nanometer this year.'

But what does this mean for TSMC's customers? If the capacity problems continue, it could have a serious impact on numerous products including AMD's Radeon HD 7970 28nm GPU. Rival Nvidia is also claimed to be feeling the pinch, with a rumoured delay to its next-generation Kepler family of GPUs as TSMC struggles to meet production demand.

As a result, we can expect to see supplies of next-generation graphics parts from AMD limited in the short term, while Nvidia's will likely remain in the shadows until it can be assured demand will be met. Mobile giant Qualcomm, for its part, is rumoured to already be shopping around for another foundry partner to pick up TSMC's slack.

TSMC itself is claimed to be conservative in its 28nm expansion plans until rumoured yields - the percentage of working chips to discarded silicon - are improved, although the company continues its expansion work on Fab 14 with a view to increasing its total capacity 10 per cent over the coming year as part of its planned transition to smaller process sizes.

'For the expansion of Fab 14, we will break ground for Phase 5 tomorrow,' Sun told us late yesterday. 'The plan calls for Phase 5 to be the second fab for 20 nanometer production (after Fab 12, Phase 6). Currently, 20nm technology is in the R&D stage, and we expect to enter risk production by second half of next year.'
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