TSMC on Monday said that some of the wafers it has processed recently have lower yields because of a chemical it uses during production. The company began investigation and is in talks with affected customers, thought to include NVIDIA and Huawei, regarding counteractive actions.

The world’s largest contract chipmaker indicated that photoresist chemical it used at its Fab 14B deviated from specifications, which caused wafers to have lower yields. Nikkei Asian Review reports that the factory supplies chips to various customers, including Huawei, NVIDIA, and MediaTek, but does not elaborate which chips and how significant is the yield drop.

TSMC hopes that the affected wafers will still be shipped in Q1, but some shipments will have to be delayed to Q2. The company is evaluating financial impact of the problem and is discussing remedial actions with its customers. In the meantime, TSMC does not expect its first quarter financial results to be significantly different than expected, so the problem may not be too serious.

Last year malware infected some of TSMC’s production tools and affected the company’s operations.

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Sources: Nikkei Asian ReviewTSE MOPS

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  • woggs - Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - link

    "counteractive actions" sounds ominous. When things like this happen in a factory, it's very seldom just a yield problem. The testing of the chips is fine tuned to catch obvious issues. but, when some new issue shows up and yield tanks this is accompanied by some percentage of chips being shipped as good but with a problem missed by the testing. Once the problem is studied, some new test must be created to ensure shipping at high quality until the original problem is fully resolved. So, there is potentially a time window of material slipping out that is not of acceptable quality. This is usually when there is a need to talk to customers about "counteractive actions." If fully contained internally, then they simply crank through it to deliver promised quantities and no public statement is needed.

    That said, it could simply be that output dropped and they need to cover themselves for a cost of operations hit... Temporary hit to margin. And temporary hit to supply. That is the best case scenario that does not require "counteractive actions."
  • Samus - Wednesday, January 30, 2019 - link

    It's hard to tell what they mean here, because it almost feels like sabotage when you consider photopolymers are common industrial chemicals. It's just mind boggling to wrap my head around how there was a "bad" batch. It's like getting a bad batch of epoxy resin at Home Depot. It just doesn't happen. And that's at a consumer scale where manufacturing tolerances are loose and batch testing is a fraction of a percent of production.

    Not a conspiracy theorist but...how?
  • FullmetalTitan - Wednesday, January 30, 2019 - link

    TSMC/Samsung/Intel have their own quality standards for every chem they use, whether that is ultra pure water, sulfuric acid, or photoresist.

    These standards are not necessarily as high in the outbound testing from every individual supplier.
    i.e. Company A supplies H2SO4 with a spec of <x ppb of some contaminant, and a FAB may need it to be <y ppb, where y < x. Normally, this isn't an issue and that chem meets both specs 99% of the time, but if it falls in between those values, it may not be seen on the shipped quality report. It isn't feasible to do full analysis of every potential contaminant on every batch received, so these issues are found by tracing a failure cascade backwards to the source, hence the large impact and delayed response.

    The "counteractive actions" is almost certainly going to be an audit request for the supplier in question, and a request to tighten testing standards to mitigate risk of future incidents.
  • eastcoast_pete - Sunday, February 3, 2019 - link

    As mentioned in my separate comment here, I am wondering if TSMC's internal QC was ratcheted down a bit or two to "increase productivity". TSMC has been very successful in being the first out of the gate with 7 nm, but that Fab cost a fortune, and all of TSMC's fabs (not just the 7 nm one) now have to earn that multi-billion $$$ investment back so TSMC can pay back the money they borrowed for it. Just like you, I also suspect a lot of SOP retraining and some personnel changes at the site.
  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - link

    Not sure how badly production problems will hurt NVIDIA. Yesterday's announcement pushed their stock a lot lower and seems to indicate softer Turing sales than expected (well, softer than NVIDIA expected, but no one looking at RTX pricing and TDP should be surprised).
  • HStewart - Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - link

    NVidia stock was not only one hit - also AMD and Intel (Intel was not hit bad however)

    Current: NVidia down 4.11% AMD down 3.26% Intel down 0.60%

    I think a lot of this is because of RTX sales and pricing is likely a large part of this

    But it news about TSMC yield could be large part of it.
  • drunkenmaster - Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - link

    Markets go up and down on a daily basis and the tech market had major hits to it in October, the difference is since then Nvidia is down even further and due to their own performance rather than the market. AMD peaked as the market grew but are still miles up on a year ago due to their performance being good and Intel is pretty flat on the year.

    Compared to a year ago AMD are up 40%, Nvidia are down 46% and Intel are 3% down.
  • Samus - Wednesday, January 30, 2019 - link

    Until the RTX2060, the series was just priced WAY out of reality for 99% of gamers. I still don't know a single person who bought the RTX2080...

    That's a stark contrast compared to the number of people I know cashing in their old cards for a RTX2060 - which is a proper value @ $350 when you factor in it includes about $60 in games and has some good overclocking headroom. It already trumps a $450 1070Ti.
  • zodiacfml - Wednesday, January 30, 2019 - link

  • Guspaz - Wednesday, January 30, 2019 - link

    Even the RTX2060 is a modest improvement. The RTX part is useless since it's too slow to actually use it, DLSS is limited to specific higher resolutions that unfortunately prevent it from being used in most cases, free games only matter if you care about those specific games or don't already have them, and overclocking headroom doesn't matter to most people (who don't overclock).

    In practice, the 2060 appears to offer roughly comparable performance to the 1070 Ti (sometimes a bit faster, sometimes a bit slower) for around 80% of the price (as seen on Amazon). That's good, but doesn't offer a big enough improvement to entice anybody from the last few generations to upgrade. It's also a big price increase from the 1060 ($250), and still costs more than even the 1070 ($310).

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