Pretty much out of nowhere UMC let fly a press release about taping out a 14nm test chip with ARM and Synopsys IP which was quickly followed by an SMIC 14nm press release about a joint venture with Huawei, Qualcomm, and imec. It caught me a bit by surprise since I spent time with both UMC and SMIC at #52DAC and nothing was mentioned. Of course Samsung and TSMC are already in production at 14/16nm and were showing 10nm wafers so maybe it would have been anticlimactic. As I mentioned before, FinFETS will forever change the foundry landscape so let’s talk about that for the remaining 400 hundred words.
Currently there are three very different versions of FinFET processes available to foundry customers: Intel 14nm, Samsung 14nm, and TSMC 16FF+. If and when SMIC and UMC are FinFET capable there will be five very different versions since UMC is licensing the IBM version and SMIC will be developing their own. UMC is expected to start FinFET production in 2016 (2017 would be my bet) and SMIC in 2020. Wait, what? 2020? Hopefully that is a typo but probably not.
Never in the history of the foundry business has there been 5 very different versions of a leading edge process offered so you have to ask yourself: “Self, just what is the fabless semiconductor ecosystem to do?” Do EDA and IP companies really have the bandwidth to support all five foundries with silicon proven FinFET tools and IP? And without the full support of the design enablement community how are all five foundries going to make money?
One thing I can tell you is that this level of competition, one which we have never seen before, will make Gordon Moore proud. The FinFET transistor cost will decrease inline with Moore’s Law despite what the idiot analysts are saying. Take a hint from the TSMC 16FFC announcement last April, 16FFC is a more cost effective version of 16FF+ aimed at the consumer marketplace. Same design rules, simpler manufacturing process (less masks), and tighter process corners. Power is said to be reduced by over 50% and the PRICING is cost-competitive against OTHER processes (meaning planar and FD-SOI).
Welcome to the new foundry landscape where cost is “MOORE” important than performance and power, absolutely. And if you believe what you read about the industry staying with 28nm forever because FinFETs are too expensive good luck with that. Let me introduce a new term for companies that linger on 28nm: FinFOOLed.
The other interesting foundry announcement is SMIC supporting the new eSilicon STAR Design Virtualization Platform. eSilicon launched this internet enabled platform with TSMC last year and I was a bit surprised that SMIC is the #2 adopter. This is a slide from the eSilicon presentation in the SMIC booth at #52DAC. You can see the full presentation HERE. Take a look at the demographics of the users, it truly is a global community. eSilicon ships MILLIONS of chips every year so yes this is a very big deal and congratulations to SMIC for being #2!