Fab Wars 10 nm; may the FinFET be with you

Subject: General Tech | May 26, 2015 - 12:27 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, Samsung, 10 nm FinFET

The race to 10nm FinFET production is still tight with TSMC expected to tape out their first parts towards the end of the year and Samsung today revealing a similar time line according to The Inquirer.  Samsung has also confirmed they will be starting construction on a new plant in South Korea in 2017, which is a good move for the company considering their loss of the chip contract for the new iPhone to TSMC.  With Samsung going almost full out on their 14nm FinFET lines for the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge Apple had concerns that Samsung would not be able to keep up with demand and unfortunately GLOBALFOUNDRIES could not take advantage either as their yields are, to put it politely, lacking. 

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"SAMSUNG HAS REVEALED that it will soon begin production of its 10nm FinFET node, and that the chip will be in full production by the end of 2016."

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Source: The Inquirer

SEC Filing Reveals NVIDIA Now Using Samsung for Some Manufacturing

Subject: General Tech | March 21, 2015 - 12:09 AM |
Tagged: TSMC, SoC, Semiconductor, Samsung, process node, nvidia, gpu, fab

Want to liven up your weekend? Forget college basketball, we all know that few things are more exciting than SEC filings - and oh boy do we have a great read for you! (OK, this one is actually interesting!)

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Ah, legal documents...

NVIDIA has disclosed in their latest 10-K filing that none other than Samsung is manufacturing some of the company’s chips. TSMC has been the source of GPUs for both AMD and NVIDIA for some time, but this filing (the full document is available from the SEC website) has a very interesting mention of the suppliers of their silicon under the “Manufacturing” section:

"We utilize industry-leading suppliers, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd, to produce our semiconductor wafers."

Back in December NVIDIA commented on its lawsuit against Samsung for alleged IP theft, which only makes this partnership seem more unlikely. However even Apple (which has their own famous legal history with Samsung, of course) has relied on Samsung for some of the production of their A-series SoCs, including the current crop of A8 chips.  Business is business, and Samsung Foundry has been a reliable source of silicon for multiple manufacturers - particularly during times when TSMC has struggled to meet demand at smaller process nodes.

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Samsung's Current Semiconductor Offering

It is unclear at this point whether the wafers produced by Samsung Semiconductor are for NVIDIA’s mobile parts exclusively, or if any of the desktop GPUs were produced there rather than at TSMC. The partnership could also be attributed simply to scale, just as Apple has augmented A8 SoC supply with their rival’s fab while primarily relying on TSMC. It will be interesting to see just how pervasive the chips produced by Samsung are within the NVIDIA lineup, and what future products might be manufactured with their newest 14nm FinFET process technology.

Source: SEC

It has been a rough quarter for the tech industry

Subject: General Tech | March 10, 2015 - 12:36 PM |
Tagged: Q1, gigabyte, earnings, msi, TSMC, amd, Intel, nvidia

There is quite a bit of news on how various component manufacturers have fared at the beginning of 2015 and not much of it is good.  Gigabyte has seen revenues drop almost 20% compared to this time last year and a significantly higher overall drop and while MSI is up almost 4% when compared to this quarter in 2014, February saw a drop of over 25% and over the total year a drop of nearly 8%.  TSMC has taken a hit of 28% over this month though it is showing around 33% growth over the past year thanks to its many contract wins over the past few months.  Transcend, Lite-On and panel maker HannStar all also reported losses over this time as did overseas notebook designers such as Wistron, Compal and Inventec.

Intel is doing well though perhaps not as profitably as they would like, and we know that NVIDIA had a great 2014 but not primarily because of growth in the market but by poaching from another company which has been struggling but not as much as previous years.  The PC industry is far from dead but 2014 was not a kind year.

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"Gigabyte Technology has reported consolidated revenues of NT$3.216 billion (US$101.93million) for February 2015, representing a 39.31% drop on month and 26.75% drop on year.

The company has totaled NT$8.515 billion in year-to-date revenues, down 18.47% compared with the same time last year."

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Source: DigiTimes

ARM and TSMC are headed for 10nm

Subject: General Tech | October 6, 2014 - 12:30 PM |
Tagged: arm, TSMC, 10nm, FinFET, armv8-a

ARM and TSMC are moving ahead at an impressive pace, now predicting 10nm FinFET designs taping out possibly in the fourth quarter of 2015.  That could even be possible considering how quickly they incorporated FinFET to move from 20nm SoC to 16nm.  The  the ARMv8-A processor architecture will have a few less transistors than a high end CPU which does help their process adoption move more quickly than AMD or Intel but with AMD partnering up with ARM there is the possibility of seeing this new ARM architecture in AMD chips in the not too distant future.  As DigiTimes points out, there are many benefits that have come from this partnership between ARM and TSMC.

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"ARM and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) have announced a new multi-year agreement that will deliver ARMv8-A processor IP optimized for TSMC 10nm FinFET process technology. Because of the success in scaling from 20nm SoC to 16nm FinFET, ARM and TSMC have decided to collaborate again for 10FinFET."

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Source: DigiTimes

TSMC scores a big win over Samsung

Subject: General Tech | March 7, 2014 - 02:02 PM |
Tagged: apple, Samsung, TSMC, rumour

According to the inside information that The Inquirer acquired, the next generation of Apple's SoC will be fabbed by TSMC not Samsung.  The A8 will be a 64bit quad-core processor of unknown speed with a GPU described as a four-cluster configuration similar to the PowerVR G6430.  This is not terribly surprising considering the abusive relationship that Apple and Samsung have developed over the past few years and will certainly swell TSMC's coffers.  Even better TSMC will also pick up the manufacturing other parts of a variety of Apple devices, check the (rumoured) list out here.

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"The next generation of Apple's custom system on a chip (SoC) for mobile devices will be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) rather than Samsung, and so will several other chips to be used in the forthcoming iPhone 6, a report has claimed."

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Source: The Inquirer

TSMC's ultraviolet lithography was a little too extreme

Subject: General Tech | February 27, 2014 - 11:37 AM |
Tagged: euv, photolithography, Intel, TSMC, DSA

A recent test at TSMC proved their experimental extreme UV lithography process is a little too extreme after a misaligned laser caused serious internal damage to their prototype.  This is rather sad news for TSMC as EUV has been touted as the best way to reduce the chip making process below 10nm.  Intel has been hedging their bets about EUV, they have invested heavily in the development of the technology but recently have teamed up with ASML Holdings and Arkema to work on directed self assembly, where the chips are convinced to form out of solution on a molecular basis.  We are not quite talking Von Neumann machines but it is certainly within the same realm of thought.  Other researchers are working on electron etching; forsaking light and its comparatively large wavelength for much smaller etching tools.  You can read more about how companies such as Intel are trying to keep Moore's law alive at The Register.

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"A recent test of the next-generation chip-etching technology known as extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) has come a cropper at chip-baking giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC)."

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Source: The Register
Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: ARM

Cortex-A12 Optimized!

ARM is an interesting little company.  Years ago people would have no idea who you are talking about, but now there is a much greater appreciation for the company.  Their PR group is really starting to get the hang of getting their name out.  One thing that ARM does that is significantly different from what other companies do is announce products far in advance of when they will actually be seeing the light of day.  Today they are announcing the Cortex-A17 IP that will ship in 2015.
 
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ARM really does not have much of a choice in how they announce their technology, primarily because they rely on 3rd parties to actually ship products.  ARM licenses their IP to guys like Samsung, Qualcomm, Ti, NVIDIA, etc. and then wait for them to actually build and ship product.  I guess part of pre-announcing these bits of IP provides a greater push for their partners to actually license that specific IP due to end users and handset makers showing interest?  Whatever the case, it is interesting to see where ARM is heading with their technology.
 
The Cortex-A17 can be viewed as a more supercharged version of the Cortex-A12, but with features missing from that particular product.  The big advancement over the A12 is that the A17 can be utilized in a big.LITTLE configuration with Cortex-A7 IP.  The A17 is more power optimized as well so it can go into a sleep state faster than the A12, and it also features more memory controller tweaks to improve performance while again lowering power consumption.
 
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In terms of overall performance it gets a pretty big boost as compared to the very latest Cortex-A9r4 designs (such as the Tegra 4i).  Numbers bandied about by ARM show that the A17 is around 60% faster than the A9, and around 40% faster than the A12.  These numbers may or may not jive with real-world experience due to differences in handset and tablet designs, but theoretically speaking they look to be in the ballpark.  The A17 should be close in overall performance to A15 based SOCs.  A15s are shipping now, but they are not as power efficient as what ARM is promising with the A17.
 

IBM Also Considers Leaving Chip Manufacturing

Subject: General Tech | February 7, 2014 - 01:18 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, IBM, GLOBALFOUNDRIES

Well this is something which I expect they will not sell to Lenovo...

IBM, one of the world's most advanced chip fabrication companies with the capability to manufacture on a 22nm node, is looking to sell this division. According to The Financial Times, via Ars Technica, the company selected Goldman Sachs to seek options. They are primarily looking for interested buyers but would also consider finding a business partner to offload the division into a joint venture.

The two initial candidates are GLOBALFOUNDRIES and TSMC.

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Image Credit: IBM via ZDNet (Outside photographers are not allowed inside their fab lab).

IBM is not willing to get rid of its chip design ability. IBM creates many chips, often based on its own "Power Architecture". This trademark comes with their RISC-based instruction sets which rival ARM and x86. It forms the basis of the Xbox 360, the Cell processor found in the PS3 (and rarely elsewhere), and the last three Nintendo game consoles starting with the Gamecube.

Despite designing all of the above chips, only some were actually fabricated by IBM.

Personally, I am not sure how serious the earlier mentioned potential buyers are. It could have easily been someone who looked at the list of leading foundries and picked the top two. TSMC is not even a member of "the Common Platform" alliance, not to mention how small IBM is compared to them, so I cannot see much reason for TSMC to bother.

GLOBALFOUNDRIES is a different story, It would make sense for them to want that part of IBM (Josh notes they even share some resource centers). Still, the both of us wondered if they could afford the deal. ATIC, parent company of GLOBALFOUNDRIES, might be able to get the money from somewhere - but would they? They purchased Charter only just recently. Now, if they simply enter a partnership with IBM, that might be a different story than an outright purchase.

Fabrication is hard and expensive. Creating a foundry is about $10 billion, give or take a few billion depending on yield, and changing your equipment for new nodes or wafer sizes is not much cheaper. I can see IBM, a company that is increasing concerned with high profitability, wanting to let someone else deal with at least some of the volatility.

IBM has not commented on this rumor.

Source: Ars Technica

TSMC Begins 16nm FinFET-based 3D Chip Production

Subject: General Tech, Processors | December 14, 2013 - 03:08 AM |
Tagged: TSMC, process node, 16nm

Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) is one of the few chip fabrication companies in the world (especially when you omit the memory producers, etc.). Their customers include: AMD, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and even a few Intel Atom processors have come out of their lines at one point. They will take money from just about anyone who wants a chip.

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According to Bit-Tech, a few customers will even have access to 16nm before the end of the year.

The catch, which of course there is one, is that production runs will be very small. We would love to see a gigantic run of new AMD or NVIDIA GPUs based on 16nm but that will not be the case (and not just because Volcanic Islands and Maxwell are both 2Xnm products). The first customers, while otherwise anonymous, will be interested in mobile systems-on-a-chip (SoCs).

On the plus side, when future 1Xnm designs come out, TSMC's production could be reasonably caught up to make a smooth launch.

Intel, the current leader in the fabrication world, targeted a slightly smaller 14nm process and have already begun producing a few odds and ends at that level. Full production has not even really started yet.

Just so you can get an idea of the complexity we are dealing with: 16nm fabrication creates details that are just ~32 atoms in width.

Source: Bit-Tech

More Talks About Process Technology

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | December 8, 2013 - 04:11 AM |
Tagged: TSMC, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, broadcom

Josh Walrath titled the intro of his "Next Gen Graphics and Process Migration: 20nm and Beyond" editorial: "The Really Good Times are Over". Moore's Law predicts that, with each ~2 year generation, we will be able to double the transistor count of our integrated circuits. It does not, however, set a price.

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A look into GlobalFoundries.

"Moore's Law is expensive" remarked Tom Kilroy during his Computex 2013 keynote. Intel spends about $12 billion USD in capital, every year, to keep the transistors coming. It shows. They are significantly ahead of their peers in terms of process technology. Intel is a very profitable company who can squirrel away justifications for these research and development expenses across numerous products and services.

The benefits of a process shrink are typically three-fold: increased performance, decreased power consumption, and lower cost per chip (as a single wafer is better utilized). Chairman and CTO of Broadcom, Henry Samueli, told reporters that manufacturing complexity is pushing chip developers into a situation where one of those three benefits must be sacrificed for the other two.

You are suddenly no longer searching for an overall better solution. You are searching for a more optimized solution in many respects but with inherent tradeoffs.

He expects GlobalFoundries and TSMC to catch up to Intel and "the cost curve should come back to normal". Still, he sees another wall coming up when we hit the 5nm point (you can count the width or height of these transistors, in atoms, using two hands) and even more problems beyond that.

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Image Credit: IONAS

From my perspective: at some point, we will need to say goodbye to electronic integrated circuits. The theorists are already working on how we can develop integrated circuits using non-electronic materials. For instance, during the end of my Physics undergraduate degree, my thesis adviser was working on nonlinear optics within photonic crystals; waveguides which transmit optical frequency light rather than radio frequency electric waves. Of course I do not believe his research was on Optical Integrated Circuits, but that is not really the point.

Humanity is great at solving problems when backs are against walls. But, what problem will they try?

Power consumption? Cost? Performance?

Source: ITWorld