As Samsung Electronics and SK hynix engage in an all-out battle over the currently top-performing fifth-generation HBM3E high bandwidth memory, the stage is set for the next generation HBM4, often called a “game changer.” The lines between logic (system) semiconductors and memory semiconductors are beginning to blur with HBM4, sparking a struggle for dominance among fabless (semiconductor design companies), foundries (semiconductor manufacturing companies), and memory semiconductor companies. Taiwan’s TSMC has been the first to reveal its ambitious plans in this arena.

On May 14, at a European technology symposium held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, TSMC unveiled details about its sixth-generation HBM4 for the first time. TSMC disclosed that it is considering 12-nanometer (nm) and 5-nm processes for the production of logic dies that will be used in HBM4, effectively offering to customize and supply HBM4 based on client performance requirements.

HBM technology involves stacking DRAM core dies on top of a base (logic) die that acts as a foundation, with the components vertically interconnected. Until now, companies like Samsung Electronics and SK hynix manufactured all components of HBM, including the base die. However, with the introduction of HBM4, the base die will be produced by foundries using ultra-fine processes, which allow for greater computational functionality to be integrated.

A senior executive at TSMC acknowledged cooperation with key partners on the integrated HBM4 process, mentioning discussions with SK hynix, Samsung Electronics, and Micron for the first time. TSMC is also upgrading its advanced packaging technology known as CoWoS for this purpose.

The semiconductor industry sees current packaging techniques, which place logic semiconductors like GPUs alongside HBM, evolving into a more complex technology that stacks HBM on top of GPUs in a three-dimensional vertical assembly within the next few years. TSMC has recently announced a new advanced packaging technology road map, securing a dominant position. It is known that Nvidia and AMD have already secured slots in TSMC’s advanced packaging line up until next year.

TSMC has effectively broken through the barriers traditionally held by memory semiconductor firms in the HBM domain. TSMC has officially declared collaboration with SK hynix and Nvidia, forming a tripartite alliance. From HBM4 onward, TSMC will produce the base dies, which SK hynix will acquire to stack DRAM on. SK hynix has announced that it will introduce HBM4 a year ahead of schedule in 2025. There is also a significant likelihood that TSMC will take over Micron’s HBM4 base dies.

The remaining variable is Samsung Electronics. Samsung is the only comprehensive semiconductor company (IDM) in the world that can design and manufacture ultra-fine processes and memory. However, with TSMC’s aggressive moves in the HBM market, Samsung is increasingly on the defensive.

Particularly, Samsung has been struggling to secure orders for HBM3E, having failed to receive a green light from Nvidia. For TSMC, the entry of a competitor that controls both foundry and advanced packaging into Nvidia’s supply chain is far from welcome.

An industry insider commented, “Samsung is not only competing with SK hynix for memory leadership in the HBM market but is now also contending with TSMC for foundry supremacy. If Samsung is to prevail, it must either dominate in both arenas or break through by creating new AI semiconductors in the design sector.”