Who’s Who in the Chip Ecosystem

Although TSMC takes the spotlight in Chip War, one of the book’s themes is the breadth and complexity of the supply chain that has enabled the success of the global semiconductor industry. A host of companies – many of them AmCham Taiwan members – are recognized for their vital role in the chip-making process. 

Besides TSMC, only two other companies in the world are cited as having the capability to produce the most sophisticated chips: Intel from the United States and Samsung from South Korea. Another major player in the microprocessor market is the American AMD (Advanced Micro Devices), which designs its own chips but no longer fabricates them itself. Texas Instruments is the largest player in the specialty category known as analog chips.  

The United States’ Micron, together with Samsung, dominates the global market for memory chips. Taiwan’s UMC (United Microelectronics Corp.), though significantly smaller than TSMC, is a leading global foundry, while MediaTek has won wide recognition as a chip design house.   

Other American companies play a key role in the semiconductor manufacturing process. Chip War describes Applied Materials as the world’s largest semiconductor toolmaking company and notes the “world-beating expertise” of Lam Research in etching circuits into silicon wafers. Miller also describes the impossibility of designing a chip containing billions of transistors without using the software of one of three American firms: Cadence, Synopsys, and Mentor. In the vital area of lithography, the sole remaining supplier is the Dutch firm ASML

Silicon Valley’s Nvidia, which originally made its name as a designer of chips for processing graphics, is now at the forefront of supporting the development of artificial intelligence. Another U.S. company, Qualcomm, specializes in chips for cell phones and mobile communications. “The company’s patents are so fundamental it’s impossible to make a cell phone with them,” Miller writes. 

Apple is a giant pillar in the marketplace, designing its own chips for production by foundries like TSMC. Other major actors in the semiconductor market are the huge data center operators such as AWS (Amazon Web Services), Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.