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TSMC To Spend $10B Building Factory for 450mm Wafers 104

An anonymous reader writes "With demand for processors growing and costs rising, using larger wafers for manufacturing is highly desirable, but a very expensive transition to make. TSMC just announced it has received approval from the Taiwan government to build a new factory for 450mm wafers, with the total cost of the project expected to be between $8-10 billion. The move to larger wafers isn't without its risks, though. Building new facilities to handle production is the easy part. The industry as a whole has to overcome some major technical hurdles before 450mm becomes a viable replacement for the tried and tested 300mm process. TSMC's chairman Morris Chang has stated the next five years will be filled with technical challenges, suggesting 450mm wafers may not be viable until at least 2017."
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TSMC To Spend $10B Building Factory for 450mm Wafers

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  • Re:How about (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2012 @05:18PM (#40301037) Journal

    Small prob with that...

    Intel recently built up (still building? can't recall) a new fab here in Oregon. It'll cost them $1bn or so, all said and done. Dropping that many ducats at a time gets expensive after awhile, even for a beast as big as Intel. Meanwhile, they still have a fab going that was originally built in the 1980's (the Aloha facility, if you're curious), and after they're done running whatever iteration they have passing through it now, it'll be useless as a fab (the walls are basically swiss cheese by now with all the holes punched and patched through them to accommodate new processes, new chip types, new machinery, etc).

    Personally, I'm kind of curious how a 450mm wafer is going to do them much good.

    Having worked in the solar industry (growing crystal is the same process as semiconductors for mono PV wafers), the CZ process [] used to grow monocrystal wafers eats a lot of time, and you can only get so much weight hanging off the "seed" (starter crystal) before it breaks. There's also the fact that as diameter increases, the need for more precise control over rotational speed during the grow increases (the thing spins at a precise speed, slowly pulling the cylindrical crystal out of a molten vat). I guess what I'm getting at is, sure they can have something at 450mm with enough precision and effort, but the resulting crystal would also have to be shorter overall, if only to keep the weight from snapping the seed crystal (causing the thing to splash back into the vat, tearing the crucible up, making a mess, and oh yeah - ruining the multi-hour run).

    Long story short, they can likely (with a lot of effort, not to mention newer/bigger machinery) get bigger-diameter crystals, but because the seed can only be so big, the wafer yield will likely drop significantly.

  • Re:How about (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot@worf.nCOUGARet minus cat> on Tuesday June 12, 2012 @05:42PM (#40301413)

    It's not like many of their most lucrative clients aren't hobbled at the moment by lack of supply for their top bin parts. Oh, yes they are.

    Hence the move to 450mm wafers.

    In semiconductor manufacturing, the cost of the wafer is basically the entire cost - around $1000 each. After processing, it's a bit more expensive. From this they cut it all up and package.

    But two important factors are size of the final die, and the yield. The larger the die, the less per wafer you can make so they cost more. The yield has the same thing - the more bad chips per wafer, the more expensive it becomes because the good chips have to pay for the bad. And there's a relation between size and yield - the larger the chip, the greater the chance that it'll be bad as flaws in the silicon or manufacturing are amplified by the die area.

    So a larger wafer means more chips per wafer, which gives you hopefully less cost per chip (the wafer doesn't cost that much more over the number you get).

    Chips get cheaper for two reasons - enhanced yields (as processes get refined) and moving to smaller nodes (each chip consumes less die area and thus you can fit more per wafer).

    For chips that are fixed-area, like say a full-frame dSLR sensor - it can mean cheaper cameras as yields get higher.

    For larger die chips, like the largest FPGAs (which can easily cost $15,000+ each) it can bring down their cost. And memory is die-area-limited, so larger wafers mean they can be bigger as well.

  • by MarioMax ( 907837 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2012 @06:24PM (#40301941)

    Being that I work in Intel's Fab 32, I can speak on authority on this.

    Smaller lithography means you need much better process control and tighter control limits. Machines that can produce quality die for a 45nm lithography might not get the job done at 32nm, and machines that work at 32nm lithography might not work for 22nm, at least not without some serious upgrades to your existing machines, process controls, etc. It is not a trivial task to perform a die shrink, even without architecture changes.

    Also changing wafer sizes (from 300mm wafers to 450mm wafers) DOES require new buildings, or complete retrofits of your existing buildings. It is not a trivial task to convert a fab from one wafer size to another; you practically need to rebuild your fab starting from scratch. Nevermind the need to completely retool your fab (virtually all existing 300mm tools will not support 450mm wafers).

Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists. -- John Kenneth Galbraith