Last year, GlobalFoundries filled the competitive gap by offering FD-SOI technology on 22nm, offering better performance than 28nm, you may have read about the news in Semiwiki. Timing is important, as Samsung has announced FD-SOI support one year before (2014) GlobalFoundries, but for 28nm. The announcement made by GlobalFoundries today “GLOBALFOUNDRIES Extends FDX™ Roadmap with 12nm FD-SOI Technology”could open more doors for FD-SOI adoption, especially in Mobile and Automotive.
I say “could” because you also read this in the PR: “Customer product tape-outs are expected to begin in the first half of 2019”. Many things can happen in three years in the semiconductor industry, like Samsung deciding to also extend their FD-SOI roadmap or TSMC finally deciding to support FD-SOI, but these are pure speculations.
If you compile the various quotes coming from Linley Gwennap founder and principal analyst of the Linley Group, G. Dan Hutcheson, chairman and CEO of VLSI Research, Handel Jones, founder and CEO, IBS, Inc, Dr. Xi Wang, Director General, Academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences or Wayne Dai, president and CEO of VeriSilicon, 12FDX will allow addressing the intelligent systems of tomorrow across a range of applications, from mobile computing and 5G connectivity to artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles, cost-sensitive mobile and IoT products, IoT and Automotive, connected systems for Intelligent Clients, 5G, AR/VR, Automotive markets. I have piled these different quotes on purpose, so we can synthesize and extract which applications will get the highest benefits from this low-power, cost optimized technology.
12FDX could be the great opportunity for FD-SOI adoption for mobile, which is today the market segment generating the largest semiconductor sales. The two mobile manufacturer leaders (also designing their own application processor), Samsung and Apple are disputing a race which doesn’t leave room for such innovation like FD-SOI adoption, and FinFET provides undisputed performance together with lower power, if you can pay the incredibly high development cost and definitely higher IC production price. But we have seen the emergence of chip makers addressing the cost sensitive mobile segment, which is growing at a faster pace than the pure performance driven segment.
From a technical standpoint, better power efficiency is a great benefit offered by the FD-SOI technology. By nature, FD-SOI has lower leakage than bulk. You can also take advantage of body biasing by delivering more performance when needed by applying forward biasing, but apply a reverse bias to reduce static leakage when high performance is unnecessary. From a marketing standpoint, you can roughly position 22FDX FD-SOI device as offering (almost) the same performance than 14FinFET for a price similar to a 28nm Bulk device. We can expect 12DFX to be cheaper than 14nm FinFET. Smarter power consumption and better price should be two important decision factors when selecting the technology to support cost sensitive mobile application.
Automotive ASICs supporting application of the future (ADAS and more) are in design today and will not stop any soon. Even if it could be surprising at first, these automotive applications will require using computing intensive devices, to support complexes algorithms, artificial intelligence or image recognition. The automotive market has always been a cost sensitive market and this will stay true, ringing one bell for FD-SOI selection. Unlike for data center, you don’t expect to spend a lot of money just to cool the device and power consumption ring another bell.
I would add another FD-SOI advantage over FinFET with reliability. Reliability requirements in the automotive market are very stringent. That makes sense as you are expected to use a car for 10X longer than a smartphone. It seems that the fin shape of a FinFET transistor, very tall but narrow, could cause reliability issues… Let’s rank automotive advanced applications in the potential adopters for 12 FDX.
What about IoT? If we talk about IoT devices, I have always been skeptical about the fit with any advanced nodes, FinFET or 12FDX. If IoT applications generate intensive computing in the cloud, then we are talking about servers/storage application, not FD-SOI friendly. If it appears that IoT systems will require local computing, intensive enough to justify advanced node usage, then a part of this IoT system will benefit from the smart power efficiency offered by body biasing, lower cost than FinFET and low power of FD-SOI.
All of the above would be pure speculation in the absence of a solid FD-SOI ecosystem. Just after the PR announcing FD-SOI roadmap, this news came on the wire titled “GLOBALFOUNDRIES Unveils Ecosystem Partner Program to Accelerate Innovation for Tomorrow’s Connected Systems”.
The goal is to show that the tools and IP to ease migration to FD-SOI from bulk nodes such as 40nm and 28nm are available:
- tools (EDA) that complement industry leading design flows by adding specific modules to easily leverage FDSOI body-bias differentiated features,
- a comprehensive library of design elements (IP), including foundation IP, interfaces and complex IP to enable foundry customers to start their designs from validated IP elements,
- platforms (ASIC), which allow a customer to build a complete ASIC offering on 22FDX,
- reference solutions (reference designs, system IP), whereby the Partner brings system level expertise in Emerging application areas, enabling customers to speed-up time to market,
- resources (design consultation, services), whereby Partners have trained dedicated resources to support 22FDX technology, and;
- product packaging and test (OSAT) solutions.
“22FDX is increasingly gaining momentum as the platform of choice to build differentiated, highly-integrated system solutions,” said Alain Mutricy, senior vice president of Product Management at GLOBALFOUNDRIES. “Now is the time to step up industry collaboration to enable our customers to accelerate adoption of 22FDX. FDXcelerator will extend the reach of the FD-SOI ecosystem by creating a market place for truly innovative FDX-tailored solutions and services.”
Last, but not least, this commitment from Marie Semeria, CEO of LETI, an institute of CEA Tech. (as a reminder, LETI has been very active in supporting FD-SOI technology transfer to GlobalFoundries):
“12FDX development will deliver another breakthrough in power, performance, and intelligent scaling as 12nm is best for double patterning and delivers best system performance and power at the lowest process complexity,” said Marie Semeria, CEO of Leti, an institute of CEA Tech. “We are pleased to see the results of the collaboration between the Leti teams and GLOBALFOUNDRIES in the U.S. and Germany extending the roadmap for FD-SOI technology, which will become the best platform for full system on chip integration of connected devices.”
Even if STMicroelectronics and Samsung have supported FD-SOI before GlobalFoundries, the Foundry is the first to offer a clear roadmap with 12FDX to come after 22FDX. We expect this positioning to open doors for power conscious, cost sensitive applications like (low cost) mobile, automotive or IoT.