After the Great Cryptographic GPU Shortage of 2017 sent GPU prices into the stratosphere, the slow decline through 2018 was a welcome return to normal. Now, we may see fresh shortages and higher prices thanks to a reported manufacturing problem at TSMC.
The following is a quote from a report by the Chinese site Expreview:
Today, TSMC has been experiencing a security incident. This time, the wafer was contaminated by unqualified raw materials. It is estimated that it will lose tens of thousands of wafers, affecting the 16/12nm process of the main revenue, NVIDIA GPU and many mobile phone chip manufacturers.
The use of the word “security” is a bit confusing in this context; it may be a mistranslation. Nothing else in the story refers to a specific security incident. Instead, the story states that wafers have been contaminated by “unqualified raw materials.”
The incident supposedly occurred at Fab 14 in Nanke Technology Park. The loss of tens of thousands of wafers — if that figure is accurate (and we’re trusting Google with the mechanical translation) — would represent a significant chunk of a typical fab’s monthly output. It could even encompass the entirety of a fab’s output for that period of time, depending on just how many wafers “tens of thousands” actually refers to. Supposedly chemicals were used in the manufacturing process that were either inappropriately purified or simply the wrong product.
TSMC has not yet made an announcement about the scope or scale of the impact. While Nvidia issued an earnings warning today (we’ll take that up separately), they did not mention any reports of damage to TSMC in the document. This is a very serious claim, but the exact impact and overall contours remain unclear.
AMD shouldn’t be affected by any of these issues, assuming they remain confined to 16/12nm, though they might theoretically impact supplies of the Xbox One and PS4 depending on which wafer runs were specifically impacted. AMD currently uses TSMC at the 7nm node for its upcoming Ryzen and Navi GPUs, as well as the imminent Radeon VII. Its 14nm products are built at GlobalFoundries, including Polaris and Vega GPUs. AMD’s 28nm graphics cards (if any are still in production) are built at TSMC, but this problem is supposed to be specific to the 14/16nm product line.
If this report is accurate, we should see a follow-up from TSMC at some point in the near future. A general production disruption to its 14/16nm manufacturing isn’t something the company can just ignore, particularly if it results in material customer impacts. Nvidia and other affected companies can be expected to disclose such information as part of their own financial guidance.