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December 18, 2019

Samsung Opens Up Foundries to China’s Baidu, in Unusual Collaboration

Move represents first foray into high performance computing chips.

By CBR Staff Writer

South Korea’s Samsung Electronics is gearing up to fabricate a 14nm HPC chip for the Chinese AI and search giant Baidu, in an unusual tie-up that represents the first foundry collaboration between the two companies. It comes as China increasingly looks for alternatives to the chips from established US semiconductor companies, amid a rumbling trade war and political pressure to boost indigenous chip capabilities.

Baidu will use Samsung’s 14nm fabrication facilitates to produce the KUNLUN cloud-to-edge chip, Samsung said, adding that it will “expand its foundry business into high performance computing (HPC) chips that are designed for cloud and edge computing.” Samsung has not previously mass-produced AI chips; a growing niche.

The announcement comes a day after Intel said that it was buying Israeli AI chip specialist Habana Labs for approximately $2 billion.

Baidu is a Chinese multinational technology firm that specialises in internet search functions; the Baidu search engine is the fourth largest in the world after Google, Bing and Yahoo. Headquartered in Beijing and founded in 2000, the company is one of the largest in China with 2018 revenues of circa £11.1 billion.

The Baidu KUNLUN chip will be fabricated using the firm’s XPU neural processor architecture that has been designed for cloud, AI and edge deployments. Baidu claims that the chip offers 512 gigabytes per second of memory bandwidth and is capable of providing 250 Tera operation per second, at a low-power of 150 watts.

Samsung Electronics’s foundry spokesman Ryan Lee said said the company was “excited” to start the new foundry service using its 14nm process technology.

He added: “Baidu KUNLUN is an important milestone for Samsung Foundry as we’re expanding our business area beyond mobile to datacenter applications by developing and mass-producing AI chips. Samsung will provide comprehensive foundry solutions from design support to cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, such as 5LPE, 4LPE, as well as 2.5D packaging.”

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Baidu believes that with this new 14nm chip it will be able to improve the speed and functionality of a host of AI workloads such as natural language processing, autonomous driving, search ranking, speech recognition and image processing.

Samsung and Baidu 14nm Fabrication

The move could mark an important opening for Samsung as it uses its 14nm fabrication capabilities to produce chips for more international firms.

There were reports this summer that American firm Intel was planning to outsource production of its 14nm Rocket Lake CPUs to Samsung; while these rumours of fabrication negotiations between the two firms were ultimately considered unfounded, Intel did acknowledge it was increasing the use of third-party foundries.

Intel’s letter to its partners stated: “In response to continued strong demand, we have invested record levels of Capex increasing our 14nm wafer capacity this year while also ramping 10nm production. In addition to expanding Intel’s own manufacturing capability, we are increasing our use of foundries to enable Intel’s differentiated manufacturing to produce more Intel CPU products.”

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