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Next Gen Graphics and Process Migration: 20 nm and Beyond

Author: Josh Walrath
Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer:

What is the Point of this Editorial?

Many people were waiting on a true, next generation GPU to be released at this time.  While the Hawaii GPU from AMD is a new (and potentially exciting) part, it is not the big jump that many were hoping for.  It looks to compete with the GTX TITAN, but it will not leapfrog that part.  It will probably end up faster, but by a couple of percentage points.  It will not be the big jump we have seen in the past such as going from a GTX 580 or HD 6970 to a GTX 680 or HD 7970.

Until 20 nm HKMG becomes available for production, we are in for a wait.  TSMC expects to be able to provide mass quantities of these parts by Q3 2014, but that is not entirely set in stone.  My gut feeling here is that TSMC will be pretty close to that timeline and we would expect to see 20 nm GPUs hitting the market in around a year from now.  The problem that we are potentially looking at could very well be heat and power constraints holding these designs back.  I do not doubt that it will be a nice jump in terms of performance from these next gen parts, but the use of 20 nm bulk will limit the potential of these products from a power consumption standpoint.

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The NVIDIA GK110, which powers the GTX Titan and GTX 780, is a huge chip which packs in over 7 billion transistors.  Expect to see this (and possibly a refreshed version) be the top end chip for a while.

If GLOBALFOUNDRIES has the ability to economically research, develop, and produce parts on 20 nm FD-SOI, they could be hitting one out of the park.  The industry is clamoring for a product that can match the power characteristics of Intel’s 22 nm process.  Intel’s Baytrail products are causing much concern for the ARM folks, though it will still be a while before Intel can ingratiate itself into many of the major handheld manufacturers who have longstanding partnerships with companies such as Qualcomm and Samsung.  3D FinFETs from TSMC are still at least 2 years away on 20 nm, not to mention sub-20 nm lines like 16 nm and 14 nm products that have been described by pure-play foundries.

Intel is also very close to production of 14 nm parts towards the end of this year.  The 14 nm process is again Tri-Gate based with bulk silicon wafers.  Intel claims that it can adequately control power and clockspeed, but I find it telling that the first products to be introduced on 14 nm are BGA only based Broadwell parts.  On the desktop there will be a Haswell refresh at 22 nm.  This indicates that 14 nm will again be a nice step up in transistor density and low speed power consumption, but for desktop and workstation applications it might not be entirely adequate.  Beyond 14 nm Intel is in fact looking at FD-SOI very carefully.  In the end, materials are king when it comes to process technology.  We have also just learned that Intel is delaying the Broadwell introduction for at least a quarter due to unacceptable defect levels on their 14 nm process with this particular product.  Even with billions in R&D and some of the most talented engineers in the industry, Intel still faces many problems with their introduction of advanced process nodes.

For the pure-play foundries they will have to rely on FinFET technology to go below 20 nm.  We will see a good mix of bulk and FD-SOI products, though we have no idea who else ST-Micro will license FD-SOI to.  The combination of FinFET/FD-SOI holds a lot of promise, but we are still at least three years away from such an implementation.

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It was all downhill for process technology after they allowed Allyn into a Fab.  He ruins everything.

The long and short of it is that we can expect longer time intervals between releases of next-generation GPU architectures as they are being constrained by the very latest process technology available.  20 nm bulk will be one year from now, 20 nm FD-SOI is at least 1.5 years away, and any process node below that appropriate for GPUs will be another 3 years.  AMD and NVIDIA will have to do a lot of work to implement next generation features without breaking transistor budgets.  They will have to do more with less, essentially.  Either that or we will just have to deal with a much slower introduction of next generation parts.  Marketing and product segmentation will rear their ugly heads, and we will see a very slow reduction in prices from when a product is introduced.  We have been spoiled for the past 18 years, but it seems like the good times are over and a whole lot of work is ahead of both designers and foundries.

We still have many years ahead of us for product advancement, and that will continue until we start seeing the 7 nm to 5 nm process nodes.  After that, we are in for some rough times.  Quantum physics will start to derail silicon based chips and we will have to move to more exotic materials to keep pace.  This is all assuming that EUV will actually work as intended.  If that does not happen, then we will have to look at other potential lithography measures such as x-ray.  There are many, many challenges ahead of the process technology people, and until some of these basic problems are solved we will likely never again see the rapid march of technology that we have experienced since the birth of the silicon transistor some 50 years ago.

October 23, 2013 | 08:12 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Thanks!  I woke up this morning to weather that was -3C this AM!  Happy cold days to you as well!

October 23, 2013 | 08:31 AM - Posted by jgsieve (not verified)

Wow Josh, great article, I'm with you on this. you really have a passion for this.

October 23, 2013 | 10:14 AM - Posted by BigMack70 (not verified)

Great article!

I do think you got a bit speculative on the impact of mobile chips and on the supposed decline of the desktop graphics market... there has been some research recently showing that the desktop graphics segment is actually healthy and growing.

I think this needs substantiation and cannot be assumed:
"Remember, desktop graphics is actually a shrinking market due to the effective integration of graphics not just in the mobile space, but also with higher powered CPUs/APUs from Intel and AMD."

October 23, 2013 | 10:33 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Desktop graphics are not growing, they are shrinking.  But they are not shrinking that much.  Intel and AMD have such good integrated graphics anymore, a large portion of the people who would previously have been bundled with a low end card are now just integrated.

The sky is not falling on discrete graphics though, it just is not growing anymore.  Mobile IS growing, and that is where a lot of the R&D is going.

October 23, 2013 | 01:07 PM - Posted by BigMack70 (not verified)

I agree that a lot of R&D is going into mobile. However, things like this:
http://www.techpowerup.com/188572/global-pc-gaming-hardware-sales-shrug-...

suggest that there is growth occuring in the discrete graphics segment.

That's why I said that there needs to be some substantiation of the idea that mobile + integrated GPUs are detrimental to discrete GPU growth.

October 23, 2013 | 01:10 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Discrete isn't growing though.  Take a look at some of the J Peddie numbers over the past few years.  Sure, gaming systems are not being affected by the PC slowdown, but there are fewer shipments now than there were 3 years ago for discrete graphics.  It isn't plummeting, and it is a healthy market, but it just isn't growing.  All of the growth is mobile right now.

October 23, 2013 | 12:21 PM - Posted by Roger Garcia (not verified)

HAHA I still have my voodoo 2's and sli cable!

October 23, 2013 | 03:27 PM - Posted by derz

The man is a repository of knowledge. Ryan is truly lucky.

October 23, 2013 | 03:29 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

And I bathe regularly!

October 24, 2013 | 04:03 AM - Posted by JackRocky (not verified)

Wow cool article.

As for the innovations in GPUs on 20nm. Well there is HyperCube or Stacked GDDR5 memory. You will get a marginally better GPU die but because the bandwidth is going to sky rocket it will seem like Christmas again...

Also AMD had a stacked DRAM prototype spotted in the wild in 2011. Why didn't it hit the market earlier? Maybe it needs time to be introduced to the market or maybe they saved this architectural revelation for the tough times, that the 20 nm without FDSOI is going to be...

Also come to think about it, should a GPU have 1 TB/s of bandwidth to main memory with improved latency at the same time, a lot of the on-die caches could be removed and pave way for more computational resources in the same die area. Of course the engineers will have to do their job and pick the right choices, but this is a possible outcome of new architectural breakthroughs that are orthogonal to the silicon production process.

So my point is, that the 290X/Titan replacement may in fact be a massive performance leap forward irrespective of the 20nm problems.

October 24, 2013 | 05:08 AM - Posted by IanD (not verified)

All the "next-generation 14nm" nodes are very similar, they're basically "20nm" metal (64nm pitch double-patterned) with faster transistors -- this applies to Intel "14nm" TriGate, TSMC "16nm" FinFET, GF "14nm" FinFET, ST "14nm" FDSOI Samsung "14nm" FinFET, there probably isn't a single feature on any of the chips which is 14nm but they had to call them something which was better than 20nm.

TSMC wouldn't call theirs 14nm because "fourteen" sounds like "go towards death" in Chinese -- and STs 14nm FDSOI used to be called 20nm (which was at least honest) until their marketing realised that everyone else was calling their similar processes 14nm, so they renamed it...

They're all a big advance on standard "20nm" planar (with the same metal stack) because lower leakage and lower operating voltage means lower power.

The issues are the risk and production difficulties and cost with new transistor structures, especially FinFET where Intel certainly had (and have?) issues with process variability, in spite of the fast they can sell both fast/leaky chips and slow/low power ones for more money than typical ones.

For all these processes (and 20nm bulk planar) the cost per gate is similar to or even higher than 28nm HKMG, which removes one of the big drivers for going to the next process node for many products. The industry was expecting EUV to come along and save its bacon, this not only hasn't happened yet but will certainly miss the next node after these ("10nm") which will need triple patterning -- and good look with that, both for design and cost.

So the lower power and higher density will mean that more functionality can be crammed onto one chip, but also that this will cost more -- which is an alien concept to an industry that for the last 40 years has assumed that the next process node will deliver more band for the same buck. Consumers may be in for a nasty shock when they find that their next super iGadget is even more expensive...

October 24, 2013 | 06:45 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Thank goodness for marketing and superstition to drive process naming!  Thanks for the info.  So strange to see these "advanced" nodes with the 20 nm back end.  Gonna be an interesting next few years of process tech.  Now we wait and see if all that money the industry invested in EUV will ever come to fruition.

October 25, 2013 | 10:31 AM - Posted by snc (not verified)

came to this site first time, very impressive article, great read, thanks for that!! will stop by more often :)

October 25, 2013 | 02:15 PM - Posted by Alex Antonio (not verified)

" It looks to compete with the GTX TITAN, but it will not leapfrog that part. It will probably end up faster, but by a couple of percentage points. It will not be the big jump we have seen in the past such as going from a GTX 580 or HD 6970 to a GTX 680 or HD 7970."

Thats not really a fair comparison... you are comparing generational leaps compared to competing products.

The generational leap for the R290x is from the 7970. Similarly the GTX 780 is the generational leap from the GTX 680.

As for for how the R290x compares to the 7970.. it is about 59% faster give or take the application. Thats the biggest leap generation to generation for as long as I can remember.

October 26, 2013 | 10:26 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Well, those really aren't generational leaps.  They are bigger products based on the same GCN and Kepler architectures that were introduced with the HD 7970 and GTX 680 respectively.  Titan has been out around a year now, and only now does AMD have an answer for that.  All of them are based on 28 nm.  So, those big chips are nice jumps in performance, but they are not the big architectural leaps that we have seen from the GTX 580 to GTX 680 or the HD 6970 to the HD 7970.

October 26, 2013 | 04:50 PM - Posted by kukreknecmi (not verified)

http://www.cadence.com/Community/blogs/ii/archive/2013/04/14/tsmc-2013-s...

Are theese mostly PR related or people just start assumptions from having a "%30 lower power consumption" on a "sram array" that, it will also be on the same level on 400mm2 GPU? Or both?

October 28, 2013 | 07:26 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Some is a bit of marketing hype, but the basics of timelines and products seems to be in line with what is expected.  Yes, there will be smaller chips, there will be more power efficient chips, but I think we will see some power/clock scaling issues with 20 nm planar.  It will be a better overall process than 28 nm HKMG, but do not expect miracles at the high end with large chips.  I could be out in left field, but it seems awfully positive and shiny in that blog.

October 27, 2013 | 12:48 PM - Posted by Watushio (not verified)

Great article Josh

Thnx

October 29, 2013 | 06:47 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Thanks!

November 3, 2013 | 09:17 PM - Posted by MdX MaxX (not verified)

Wonderful article!

I wish everyone could read this so we would stop hearing all the "wahhh Intel/AMD/Nvidia doesn't care about enthusiasts anymore" nonsense. Transistors don't just get smaller on their own.

November 7, 2013 | 07:42 AM - Posted by Adele Hars (not verified)

You rock, Josh -- great piece. A few clarifications. IBM is still using PD-SOI at 22nm in Power8 (see http://bit.ly/15saFUm). They've got SOI-FinFET lined up for 14nm. The FD-SOI crowd is skipping directly from 28nm to 14nm, which they say will be ready next year before 14nm (bulk) FinFET (see http://bit.ly/1cGjZgi). (Tho 28nm FDSOI is already pretty awesome in terms of power & perf -- it's what got 3GHz & an extra day of smartphone battery life - see http://bit.ly/1hPLvri). And ST's capacity in France is much more than you've indicated -- and now they're in the process of doubling it (thank you, Europe!) so they'll be at 4500 wafer starts/week by the end of 2014 (see http://bit.ly/1bdvMfr). Leti will have models available for 10nm FDSOI in a couple months, and PDKs in Q314 (see http://bit.ly/1bdwadP).

November 8, 2013 | 05:56 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Really good info here!  Thanks for joining in!

January 10, 2014 | 12:18 AM - Posted by laurent (not verified)

Thank you for this comprehensive and complete article on technological limitations of SC industry vs graphics maturity. I work in the ST fab that develop 28 then 14nm FDSOI right now and this kind of article makes it worth the efforts (to not say the hard work!) we put in this technology.

January 30, 2014 | 10:52 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

14 nm FDSOI looks very, very interesting.  Can't wait to see how it progresses!

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