Charlie over at Semiaccurate is reporting that TSMC has closed down their entire 28 nm line. Shut down. Not running wafers. This obviously cannot be good.
Apparently TSMC stopped the entire line about three weeks ago and have not restarted it. This type of thing does not happen very often, and when it does, things are really out of whack. Going back we have heard mixed reviews of TSMC’s 28 nm process. NVIDIA was quoted as saying that yields still were not very good, but at least were better than what they experienced with their first 40 nm part (GTX 400 series). Now, part of NVIDIA’s problem was that the design was as much of an issue as the 40 nm process was. AMD at the time was churning out HD 5000 series parts at a pretty good rate, and they said their yields were within expectations.
AMD so far is one of the first customers out of the gate with a large volume of 28 nm parts. The HD 7900 series has been out since the second week of January, the HD 7700 series since mid-February, and the recently released HD 7800 series will reach market in about 2 weeks. Charlie has done some more digging and has found out that AMD has enough product in terms of finished boards and packaged chips that they will be able to handle the shutdown from TSMC. Things will get tight at the end, but apparently the wafers in the middle of being processed have not been thrown out or destroyed. So once production starts again, AMD and the other customers will not have to wait 16 to 20 weeks before getting finished product.
NVIDIA will likely not fare nearly as well. The bulk of the stoppage occurred during the real “meat and potatoes” manufacturing cycle for the company. NVIDIA expects to launch the first round of Kepler based products this month, but if production has been stopped for the past three weeks then we can bet that there are a lot of NVIDIA wafers just sitting in the middle of production. Charlie also claims that the NVIDIA launch will not be a hard one, and NVIDIA expects retail products to be available several weeks after the introduction.
The potential reasons for this could be legion. Was there some kind of toxic spill that resulted in a massive cleanup that required the entire line to be shut down? Was there some kind of contamination that was present while installing the line, but was not discovered until well after production started? Or was something glossed over during installation that ballooned into a bigger problem that just needed to be rectified (a stitch in time saves nine)?