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Posts Tagged ‘semiconductors’

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.

AMD Net Loss Widens in 2015 on Lower Revenue

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Advanced Micro Devices on Tuesday reported a net loss of $660 million on revenue of $3.99 billion for 2015, compared with a net loss of $403 million on revenue of $5.51 billion in 2014.

In the fourth quarter, the fabless semiconductor company posted a net loss of $102 million on revenue of $958 million. A year ago, AMD had a net loss of $364 million on revenue of $1.24 billion.

“AMD closed 2015 with solid execution fueled by the second straight quarter of double-digit percentage revenue growth in our Computing and Graphics segment and record annual semi-custom unit shipments,” AMD President and Chief Executive Officer Lisa Su said in a statement. She added, “While 2015 was challenging from a financial perspective, key R&D investments and a sharpened focus on innovation position us well to deliver great products, improved financial results and share gains in 2016.”

The IC design company’s Computing and Graphics segment had Q4 revenue of $470 million, down 29 percent from a year earlier while growing 11 percent from the third quarter, largely due to higher sales of notebook processors. AMD’s Enterprise, Embedded and Semi-Custom segment posted revenue of $488 million in Q4, down 15 percent from a year ago due to lower game-console royalties and decreased sales in embedded and server chips.  Q4 revenue in that segment fell 23 percent from Q3 owing to seasonally lower sales of semi-custom system-on-a-chip devices.

AMD forecast revenue in the first quarter of this year will be down 14 percent from Q4, to about $824 million.

Matthew Ramsay, an analyst for Canaccord Genuity, said of AMD’s financial results, “Overall, we believe AMD’s diversification strategy continues to show gradual progress and a refreshed roadmap could position the company for more defensible long-term sales beginning 2H/16 as the roadmap moves to FinFET, crossing a significant competitive hurdle for the company. While Q4/15 results marked the second consecutive quarter of sequential growth for the C&S business where the roadmap is now more competitive, Q1/16 guidance was disappointing and management’s commentary regarding the macro environment was less than encouraging given a recent decline in channel and OEM forecasts in China. Looking forward to 2016, we anticipate stronger GPU sales as Polaris GPUs launch midyear, solid unit growth of console sales largely offset by ASP declines, and new semi-custom wins to contribute to 2H/16 growth, leaving GPU or semi-custom sales catalyzed by virtual reality as upside to our estimates. We are starting to see the righting of the ship at AMD, but remain on the sidelines for now given the decidedly uncertain macro environment.”

Solid State Watch: August 14-20, 2015

Friday, August 21st, 2015
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Solid State Watch: April 17-23, 2015

Friday, April 24th, 2015
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Solid State Watch: March 27-April 2, 2015

Friday, April 3rd, 2015
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“The Electrical Arts” and the First Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

By Jeff Dorsch

Before there were electrical engineers and standard definitions for the ampere, ohm and volt, entrepreneurs and scientists in the United Kingdom and the United States worked on the issue of improving communications between the Old World and the New World. They hoped to achieve a data rate of one to two words per minute.

How the first telegraph cable linking North America with Ireland was successfully developed and installed was the topic of Tuesday’s keynote address at the DesignCon 2015 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. Presenting the occasionally humorous and upbeat address was Stanford University professor Thomas Lee, who has held positions in academia, government, and industry.

Professor Lee noted the differences from semiconductors of the 1960s and the present day, going from thousands of transistors to billions of transistors on one chip.

Greatness, he noted, comes from a combination of money, ignorance, luck, and craziness. He proceeded to tell the story of Cyrus West Field, who went from being a rich paper magnate to a bored retiree at the age of 33 and later to the quest for laying a telegraph cable across the North Atlantic Ocean, connecting Europe and North America at a time when it took fast sailing ships to bring messages and news from England to the U.S. in two weeks.

Field had assistance in his telegraph venture from the work of Michael Faraday and William Thomson, later known as Lord Kelvin. American and British ships laid the cable across the ocean in 1858, Lee said. The first official message, a 98-word missive from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan, took 16 hours to transmit.

Field and his financial backers planned to charge $10 a word once telegraph service began between the two countries. The cable eventually failed, however, and there was talk of prosecuting Field for stock fraud, as “cable deniers” asserted that there actually was no trans-Atlantic cable, according to Lee.

The American Civil War intervened before Field could be imprisoned by his investors, and he was able to return to the ambitious telegraph venture after the war’s end in 1865.

Following another failed attempt to place the cable under the sea, the venture was finally successful in 1866, Lee said. The U.K. and the U.S. have been connected ever since, he noted.

The success of the Atlantic Telegraph Company led to the formation of the Society of Telegraph Engineers in 1871, the official acceptance of the ohm as an international standard in 1874, and the establishment of electrical engineering programs, a discipline known in the 19th century as “the electrical arts,” at Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Taking Cyrus W. Field and his collaborators as an example, Professor Lee said today’s innovators also need that elusive combination of money, ignorance, luck, and craziness to succeed today in “the electrical arts,” now known as electronics engineering.

The Week in Review: November 21, 2014

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Continuing strength in China and a resurgent U.S. economy are combining to drive accelerated growth in the worldwide market for semiconductors used in industrial applications this year, according to IHS Technology. Global market revenue for industrial semiconductors is expected to rise by 12.9 percent in 2014, reaching $38.5 billion, up from $34.0 billion in 2013. This represents an even larger increase in market growth compared to an 11.4 percent expansion in 2013.

According to preliminary results from the upcoming DisplaySearch Quarterly Mobile PC Shipment and Forecast Report, in the third quarter of this year, the global notebook PC market grew 10 percent year over year, to reach 49.4 million units. Global shipments of tablet PCs, by comparison, fell 8 percent. Notebook PC growth was primarily driven by the developed regions of North America and Western Europe, which increased year-over-year shipments by more than 20 percent in the third quarter.

North America-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment posted $1.10 billion in orders worldwide in October 2014 (three-month average basis) and a book-to-bill ratio of 0.93, according to the October EMDS Book-to-Bill Report published today by SEMI.

Holst Center is collaborating with Cartamundi NV, a world leader in production and sales of card and board games, to develop ultra-thin flexible near field communication (NFC) tags for game cards. The goal is an enhanced gaming experience that is interactive and intuitive.

Combo sensors continue their growth in a market expected to reach US$ 1.4 billion in 2019 overcoming discrete sensors, according to a new report from Yole Developpement.

This week, SEMI announced the keynote speakers for the third edition of the European 3D TSV Summit, event that will take place on January 19-21, 2015 in Grenoble, France.

Research Alert: Nov. 19, 2013

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Graphene nanoribbons for ‘reading’ DNA

If we wanted to count the number of people in a crowd, we could make on the fly estimates, very likely to be imprecise, or we could ask each person to pass through a turnstile. The latter resembles the model that EPFL researchers have used for creating a “DNA reader” that is able to detect the passage of individual DNA molecules through a tiny hole: a nanopore with integrated graphene transistor.

Direct electrical readout from the graphene transistors is used to detect DNA translocation events. Nanopore, DNA and the graphene nanoribbon are shown in this schematic (which is not to scale).

The DNA molecules are diluted in a solution containing ions and are driven by an electric field through a membrane with a nanopore. When the molecule goes through the orifice, it provokes a slight perturbation to the field, detectable not only by the modulations in ionic current but also by concomitant modulation in the graphene transistor current. Based on this information, it is possible to determine whether a DNA molecule has passed through the membrane or not.

This system is based on a method that has been known for over a dozen years. The original technique was not as reliable since it presented a number of shortcomings such as clogging pores and lack of precision, among others. “We thought that we would be able to solve these problems by creating a membrane as thin as possible while maintaining the orifice’s strength,” said Aleksandra Radenovic from the Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology at EPFL. Together with Floriano Traversi, postdoctoral student, and colleagues from the Laboratory of Nanoscale Electronics and Structures, she came across the material that turned out to be both the strongest and most resilient: graphene, which consists of a single layer of carbon molecules. The strips of graphene or nanoribbons used in the experiment were produced at EPFL, thanks to the work carried out at the Center for Micro Nanotechnology (CMI) and the Center for Electron Microscopy (CIME).

“Through an amazing coincidence, continued the researcher, the graphene layer’s thickness measures 0.335 nm, which exactly fits the gap existing between two DNA bases, whereas in the materials used so far there was a 15 nm thickness.” As a result, while previously it was not possible to individually analyze the passage of DNA bases through these “long” tunnels – at a molecular scale –, the new method is likely to provide a much higher precision. Eventually, it could be used for DNA sequencing.

However they are not there yet. In only five milliseconds, up to 50,000 DNA bases can pass through the pores. The electric output signal is not clear enough for “reading” the live sequence of the DNA strand passage. “However, the possibility of detecting the passage of DNA with graphene nanoribbons is a breakthrough as well as a significant opportunity”, said Aleksandra Radenovic. She noted that, for example, the device is also able to detect the passage of other kinds of proteins and provide information on their size and/or shape.

Taking a new look at carbon nanotubes

Despite their almost incomprehensibly small size – a diameter about one ten-thousandth the thickness of a human hair – single-walled carbon nanotubes come in a plethora of different “species,” each with its own structure and unique combination of electronic and optical properties. Characterizing the structure and properties of an individual carbon nanotube has involved a lot of guesswork – until now.

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have developed a technique that can be used to identify the structure of an individual carbon nanotube and characterize its electronic and optical properties in a functional device.

New way to dissolve semiconductors holds promise for future of electronics

Semiconductors could become even more versatile as researchers make headway on a novel, inexpensive way to turn them into thin films. Their report on a new liquid that can quickly dissolve nine types of key semiconductors appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Richard L. Brutchey and David H. Webber note that making low-cost, semiconducting thin films on a large scale holds promise for improving a number of electronic applications, including solar cells. The problem has been finding a liquid that can dissolve semiconductors so that they can be subsequently solution-processed using inexpensive methods. Hydrazine can do the trick for many of these materials, but as a compound that is sometimes used in rocket fuel, it is explosive and highly toxic. It’s also a poor option for making semiconducting thin films en masse. Brutchey and his team decided to search for a safer solution.

They found an answer in a mixture of two compounds that could dissolve a set of important semiconducting materials called chalcogenides at room temperature and normal air pressure. The researchers state, “We believe these initial results indicate that the chemistry can be further extended to other families of chalcogenide materials and may hold promise for applications that would benefit from solution deposition of semiconductor thin films.”

Research Bits: Oct. 22, 2013

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Size matters in the giant magnetoresistance effect in semiconductors

Professors at Georgia State University reported that a giant magnetoresistance effect depends on the physical size of the device in the GaAs/AlGaAs semiconductor system.

In research that is supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Research Office, Dr. Ramesh Mani, professor of physics and astronomy, studied the magnetoresistance in flat, very thin sheets of electrons in the ultra high quality GaAs/AlGaAs semiconductor with his colleagues Annika Kriisa from Emory University and Werner Wegscheider from the ETH-Zurich in Switzerland.

The researchers found that the change in the resistance or resistivity with the magnetic field depends on the size of the device. They demonstrated that, under the application of a magnetic field, wide devices develop a smaller and quicker change, while small devices develop a bigger but slower change in the resistivity. The resistance or resistivity of a material to the flow of electricity is a technologically important property, especially in semiconductors.

This research team developed a model to understand the observations and deduced that when the semiconductor system becomes of even better quality, the change in the resistance under the application of a magnetic field will become even bigger. Indeed, the change might become so big that the resistance vanishes entirely in the small magnetic field.

Thin film semiconductors that will drive production of next-generation displays

Researchers at the National Institute for Materials Science have developed a pixel switching semiconductor, which will be the key to driving next-generation displays, by using an oxide film with a new elemental composition.

When an oxide film contains metal with low bond dissociation energy, the thin film absorbs or desorbs oxygen easily and the conductivity of the film changes. For example, zinc has very low bond dissociation energy, so a thin film using zinc absorbs or desorbs oxygen easily when heated or cooled. This finding suggests that the manufacturing conditions for oxide semiconductors can be controlled by focusing on the bond dissociation energy. In fact, the research team confirmed that film deposition conditions can be broadened by adding silicon oxide with high bond dissociation energy to indium oxide. We also confirmed stabilization of thin-film conductivity in post-deposition heat treatment.

The research results are expected to be effective not only for reducing the power consumption of displays which consume about half of the power in rapidly diffusing smartphones, but also for achieving higher frequencies to realize higher-definition TVs. Additionally, the thin film developed in this research contributes to conserving precious resources by not using zinc, which is a trace element of concern, or high-cost gallium which is used in large quantities for galvanized steel sheets or as a rubber vulcanizing agent, while it also enables the manufacture of flat panel displays not affected by wild fluctuations in raw material prices.

Ultraviolet light to the extreme

When you heat a tiny droplet of liquid tin with a laser, plasma forms on the surface of the droplet and produces extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light, which has a higher frequency and greater energy than normal ultraviolet.Now, for the first time, researchers have mapped this EUV emission and developed a theoretical model that explains how the emission depends on the three-dimensional shape of the plasma. In doing so, they found a previously untapped source of EUV light, which could be useful for various applications including semiconductor lithography, the process used to make integrated circuits.

In the experiments, Andrea Giovannini and Reza Abhari from ETH-Zurich in Switzerland blasted a 30-micron-diameter droplet of tin with a high-powered laser 6,000 times a second. They measured the spatial distribution of the resulting EUV emission and found that 30 percent of it came from behind the region of the droplet that was struck by the laser. According to their model, this unexpected distribution was due to the fact that the plasma partially surrounding the droplet was elongated in the direction of the laser pulse.

Devices that produce narrow beams of EUV for purposes like in semiconductor lithography use mirrors to focus the emission. But, until now, no one knew to collect the EUV light radiating from behind the droplet.