Last week, Samsung (OTC:SSNLF)announced that it had begun mass production of an Exynos 7 Octa processor built on its 14-nanometer logic manufacturing technology. Assuming the company press release was timed roughly with the start of mass production of these chips, this means production started in mid-February.
Given that rival Taiwan Semiconductor (NYSE:TSM) has officially said it will not begin mass production of chips on its 16-nanometer FinFET+ technology until July 2015, it appears to be about five months behind Samsung on volume production of FinFET chips.
This should be good to go for Apple A9
It has been widely reported that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has moved back to Samsung for the manufacture of its next-generation A9 applications processor. Some reports indicate Samsung will handle this job exclusively, while others state it will be split between Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor. In any case, it seems Samsung is ready to go first.
At this point, Samsung production readiness rules out the possibility of the Apple A9 being built on older 20-nanometer manufacturing technology as has been rumored -- this chip should benefit from all the benefits FinFET manufacturing technology is expected to bring.
Will it be ready to go for the Galaxy S6?
The Samsung Galaxy S6 is expected to be unveiled on March 1st at one of the traditional "Unpacked" events. It has been widely rumored that the S6 will feature an Exynos 7 Octa built on this new 14-nanometer technology. However, given that the S6 should be a relatively high volume phone, it is not clear if Samsung has enough 14-nanometer capacity in place yet to service such a large rollout.
Furthermore, if mass production of these chips began in mid-February, this would suggest the production wafers will not actually be ready to go for about a quarter and a half (if Taiwan Semiconductor's comments regarding the time from production start to revenue recognition apply here). This would suggest production shipments to end users in June or July.
That being said, Samsung did say on prior earnings calls and other investor conferences that it began mass production of its next-generation Exynos near the end of 2014, so the company press release might suggest chips are ready to go now.
At any rate, given that we are so close to the Galaxy S6 launch, it might not make sense for the company to hype up the mass production of its 14-nanometer chips only to ship 20-nanometer parts in its new flagship handset. We will find out in a week or so what the deal is with the applications processor in the Galaxy S6.
Will Qualcomm's next applications processor be built at Samsung, too?
Qualcomm(NASDAQ:QCOM) CEO Steve Mollenkopf noted during the last earnings call that the company would begin sampling its next-generation high-end applications processor and cellular baseband processor in the second half of 2015, and that they would be built on the "most advanced process node."
I would bet that for a product sampling in the second half of 2015 and likely set to be commercially deployed in early 2016, Qualcomm will use a FinFET manufacturing technology from either Taiwan Semiconductor or Samsung. There is evidence that Qualcomm is designing chips with manufacturing technology from both companies, but it remains to be seen if Qualcomm picks one or the other, or splits the orders.
Given the timeline Mollenkopf cited, both foundries should be in production in time to supply Qualcomm. We will see which foundry ultimately wins those orders soon enough.