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 - 06:18 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 - 08:08 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 - 09:11 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

Qualcomm tries to play matchmaker between Samsung Electronics and Globalfoundries

Subject: General Tech | November 18, 2013 - 05:44 PM |
Tagged: qualcomm, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Samsung, TSMC

Qualcomm is looking to diversify their supply chain and move away from dependence on TSMC and their 28nm node.  They have some qualifications for their suitor to meet and being one of the larger customers means that they just might get it.  Their requirement is for the rumoured Samsung and GLOBALFOUNDRIES partnership to become stable and for Samsung to use GF as a sub-contractor to make chips for Apple.  If you believe all the hints we are getting the partnership could grow and it would give Qualcomm a supplier who is financially stable and still has enough free resources to fab Qualcomm's chips in the desired volume.  This is the news out of DigiTimes this morning.

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"Qualcomm reportedly hopes Samsung Electronics and Globalfoundries can form an alliance, as the fabless IC vendor seeks to reduce its reliance on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) for its advanced chips, according to industry sources."

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Source: DigiTimes
Author:
Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer:

The Really Good Times are Over

We really do not realize how good we had it.  Sure, we could apply that to budget surpluses and the time before the rise of global terrorism, but in this case I am talking about the predictable advancement of graphics due to both design expertise and improvements in process technology.  Moore’s law has been exceptionally kind to graphics.  We can look back and when we plot the course of these graphics companies, they have actually outstripped Moore in terms of transistor density from generation to generation.  Most of this is due to better tools and the expertise gained in what is still a fairly new endeavor as compared to CPUs (the first true 3D accelerators were released in the 1993/94 timeframe).

The complexity of a modern 3D chip is truly mind-boggling.  To get a good idea of where we came from, we must look back at the first generations of products that we could actually purchase.  The original 3Dfx Voodoo Graphics was comprised of a raster chip and a texture chip, each contained approximately 1 million transistors (give or take) and were made on a then available .5 micron process (we shall call it 500 nm from here on out to give a sense of perspective with modern process technology).  The chips were clocked between 47 and 50 MHz (though often could be clocked up to 57 MHz by going into the init file and putting in “SET SST_GRXCLK=57”… btw, SST stood for Sellers/Smith/Tarolli, the founders of 3Dfx).  This revolutionary graphics card at the time could push out 47 to 50 megapixels and had 4 MB of VRAM and was released in the beginning of 1996.

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My first 3D graphics card was the Orchid Righteous 3D.  Voodoo Graphics was really the first successful consumer 3D graphics card.  Yes, there were others before it, but Voodoo Graphics had the largest impact of them all.

In 1998 3Dfx released the Voodoo 2, and it was a significant jump in complexity from the original.  These chips were fabricated on a 350 nm process.  There were three chips to each card, one of which was the raster chip and the other two were texture chips.  At the top end of the product stack was the 12 MB cards.  The raster chip had 4 MB of VRAM available to it while each texture chip had 4 MB of VRAM for texture storage.  Not only did this product double performance from the Voodoo Graphics, it was able to run in single card configurations at 800x600 (as compared to the max 640x480 of the Voodoo Graphics).  This is the same time as when NVIDIA started to become a very aggressive competitor with the Riva TnT and ATI was about to ship the Rage 128.

Read the entire editorial here!

16nm FinFET ARM processors from TSMC soon

Subject: General Tech | April 2, 2013 - 09:57 PM |
Tagged: arm, FinFET, 16nm, TSMC, Cortex-A57

While what DigiTimes is reporting on is only the first tape out, it is still very interesting to see TSMC hitting 16nm process testing and doing it with the 3D transistor technology we have come to know as FinFET.  It was a 64-bit ARM Cortex-A57 chip that was created using this process, unfortunately we did not get much information about what comprised the chip apart from the slide you can see below.

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As it can be inferred by the mention that it can run alongside big.LITTLE chips it will not be of the same architecture, nor will it be confined to cellphones.  This does help reinforce TSMC's position in the market for keeping up with the latest fabrication trends and another solid ARM contract will also keep the beancounters occupied.  You can't expect to see these chips immediately but this is a solid step towards an new process being mastered by TSMC.

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"The achievement is the first milestone in the collaboration between ARM and TSMC to jointly optimize the 64-bit ARMv8 processor series on TSMC FinFET process technologies, the companies said. The pair has teamed up to produce Cortex-A57 processors and libraries to support early customer implementations on 16nm FinFET for ARM-based SoCs."

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Source: DigiTimes

Apple looking to TSMC to replace Samsung as their fab

Subject: General Tech | January 2, 2013 - 06:31 PM |
Tagged: apple, Samsung, TSMC, A6X

According to the news we are hearing from Slashdot and other sources, Apple has finally made the decision to move their chip fabrication from Samsung, for fairly obvious reasons, with TSMC being the lucky fab that will get their business.  They are starting with the current A6X chip, shrinking it to 28nm for the initial run, with the contract for producing the new A7 series dependant on the success of TSMC's trial run.  As the 28nm node is quite familiar to TSMC, barring any production issues that limit availability, they are very likely to win the contract.

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"The test will kick off in Q1 2013, The China Times reports, with TSMC producing a new, 28nm version of the existing 32nm A6X that Samsung has been producing for the full-sized iPad 4th-gen; the smaller chip, which will likely be more power efficient as well, will debut in a new iPad 5th-gen and iPad mini 2."

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Source: Slashdot

Exclusive partner is another word for single point of failure

Subject: General Tech | August 30, 2012 - 06:38 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, apple, qualcomm, fab

If you believe the rumours, TSMC recently turned down offers from both Apple and Qualcomm to make those companies the exclusive partner of TSMC's smartphone chip production.  Now, that sort of deal does tend to line the pockets of the supplier quite nicely, as the customer must pay to recompense the lost business from other customers.  It also gives the manufacturer the ability to specialize their production lines for one specific type of chip which will eventually bring the cost per wafer down.  On the other hand, this type of deal can stifle innovation on a general level as the manufacturer doesn't need to worry about attracting other customers, nor designing fabrication plants capable of producing multiple types of chips.  Then there is TSMC in specific, a company which has a long history of providing supplies to companies both sides of the war, be it GPU, CPU or a mixed chip.  As arms dealers proved long ago it is far more profitable to sell to both sides than to only supply one belligerent.  Read DigiTimes take on this topic here.

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"A recent Bloomberg report cited unnamed sources as saying that Apple and Qualcomm had been rebuffed in separate attempts to invest cash in Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) in a bid to secure exclusive access to smartphone chips. Digitimes Research analyst Nobunaga Chai has commented saying that he sees no good reason why TSMC should accept the investment."

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Source: DigiTimes

TSMC makes the future of 28nm a little brighter

Subject: General Tech | August 22, 2012 - 07:53 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, 28nm

If you like NVIDIA and AMD's current 28nm process GPUs and future APUs, you should be very happy to hear that TSMC's current 28nm process is topping 80% yield.  This means that the vast majority of silicon coming out of TSMC is good and the supply shortages we have had to become accustomed to are a thing of the past.  This also bodes well for the upcoming AMD APUs which will most likely be using TSMC 28nm silicon.  As well, DigiTimes has good news about the new Fab 15 which should vastly expand TSMC's production capability.

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"Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company's (TSMC) 28nm processes have topped a yield rate of 80%, the Chinese-language Commercial Times cited unnamed equipment suppliers as saying in a recent report. Meanwhile, the foundry's new 12-inch fab - Fab 15 - will have a capacity of more than 100,000 12-inch equivalent wafers in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to the report.

Installed capacity at TSMC's Fab 15 thus far in the third quarter has expanded by about 300% sequentially, the report indicated. Fab 15 is identified as the major wafer fab where TSMC's foundry capacity for 28nm processes will be located.

TSMC will be able to satisfy all demand from its major clients including Qualcomm, Nvidia and AMD by the fourth quarter of 2012 as it manages to boost output of wafers processed using 28nm technology, the report believes."

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Source: DigiTimes