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TSMC Readies 7nm Chip Ecosystem, Infrastructure for 2017

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company came to Silicon Valley on Tuesday for a day of presentations on its latest chip technology. The TSMC Technology Symposium for North America drew more than 1,000 attendees at the San Jose Convention Center.

The world’s largest silicon foundry led off the day with a pair of announcements: ARM Holdings and TSMC said they would collaborate on 7-nanometer FinFET process technology for ultra-low-power high-performance computing (HPC) system-on-a-chip devices, building on their previous experience with 16nm and 10nm FinFET process technology, while MediaTek and TSMC extended their partnership to develop Internet of Things and wearable electronics products, using the IC design house’s MT2523 chipset for fitness smartwatches, introduced in January and fabricated with TSMC’s 55nm ULP process.

TSMC’s work with ARM on the 16nm and 10nm nodes employed ARM’s Artisan foundation physical intellectual property, as will their 7nm efforts.

On Tuesday afternoon, the hundreds of attendees heard first from BJ Woo, TSMC’s vice president of business development, on the company’s advanced technology, including its moves toward supporting radio-frequency IC (RFIC) designs for smartphone chips and other areas of wireless communications.

“Cellular RF and WLAN are RF technology drivers,” she said. Looking toward 4G LTE Carrier Aggregation, TSMC began offering its 28HPC RF process to customers in late 2015 and will roll out the 28HPC+ RF process in the second quarter of this year, Woo added.

TSMC has won 75 percent of the business for RFIC applications, she asserted.

The foundry will start making 10nm FinFET chips for flagship smartphones and “phablets” this year, with 7nm FinFET devices for those products in 2017, according to Woo.

The business development executive also touted the company’s “mature 28-nanometer processes,” the 28HPC and 28HPC+, saying they are “rising in both volume and customer tape-outs.”

TSMC has been shipping automotive chips meeting industry standards since 2014, Woo noted, primarily for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and infotainment electronics. The foundry is now working on vehicle control technology, employing microcontrollers.

The company’s 16FF+ process has been used in 50 customer tape-outs, Woo said. “Many have achieved first-silicon success,” she added. TSMC is putting its 16FFC process into volume production during this quarter.

“Automotive will be the [semiconductor] industry focus,” Woo predicted.

She also spoke about the company’s MD2 local interconnect technology, its 1D back-end-of-line process, and its spacer BEOL process.

Regarding 7nm chips, Woo said the company will offer two “tracks” of such chips, for high-performance computing and mobile applications. “Both will be available at the same time,” she said.

Most of the semiconductor production equipment being used for fabrication of 10nm chip will also be used for 7nm manufacturing, according to Woo. Those 7nm chips will be 10 to 15 percent faster than 10nm chips, while reducing power consumption by 35 to 40 percent, she said.

Risk production of 7nm chips will begin one year from now, in March of 2017, she said.

Suk Lee, senior director of TSMC’s Design Infrastructure Marketing Division, reported on development of electronic design automation (EDA) products for the 16nm node and beyond.

“Low-power solutions are ready,” he said of the foundry’s 16FFC process. IP is available to use with 16FFC for automotive, IoT, HPC, and mobile computing applications, he noted.

Lee reviewed what the company’s EDA partners – Mentor Graphics, Synopsys, Cadence Design Systems, ANSYS, and ATopTech – have available for 10nm chip design and verification.

Design and manufacturing of 7nm chips will involve cut-metal handling and multiple patterning, according to Lee. “We’ve used this technology on 16 nanometer and previous generations,” he said of cut-metal handling.

TSMC will support multiple SPICE simulators, having developed hybrid-format netlist support, Lee said. Pre-silicon design kits for 7nm chips will be available in the third quarter of 2016, he added.

The TSMC9000 Program for automotive/IoT products will be “up and running” in Q3 of this year, providing “automotive-grade qualification requirements in planning,” he said.

Lee also spoke about the foundry’s offerings in 3D chips, featuring “full integration of packaging and IC design” with TSMC’s InFO technology. The HBM2 CoWoS design kit will be out in the second quarter of 2016, he said. “We’re very excited about that,” Lee added.

George Liu, senior director of TSMC’s Sensor & Display Business Development, said, “The Internet of Things will drive the next semiconductor growth.” When it comes to the IoT and the Internet of Everything, “forecasts are all over the map,” he noted.

Taking diversification as his theme, Liu said TSMC’s specialty technology will help bridge the connection between the natural world and the computing cloud. First there is the “signal chain” of analog chips and sensors, leading to the “data chain” of connectivity, he said.

Liu reviewed a wide variety of relevant technologies, such as CMOS image sensors, microelectromechanical system (MEMS devices, embedded flash memories, biometrics, touch and display technology, and power management ICs.

At the all-day conference, which included an ecosystem exhibition by partner companies, TSMC emphasized its readiness to take on 28nm, 16nm, 10nm, and 7nm chip designs, along with the more mature process technologies. It’s game on for the foundry business.