Leading foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. has said that it is developing a second transistor structure for its 16nm FinFET node, which will provide a 15 percent improvement in performance or power consumption.
Of particular note are Co-CEO Mark Liu's comment that the enhancement would put TSMC's 16nm FinFET process on a par with 16nm FinFET from Intel.
It revealed the plan along with other refinements of its technology plan and forecasts for 2014 during an analysts' conference held to discuss the company's fourth quarter financial results for 2013.
The meeting was the first such held under the stewardship of co-CEOs CC Wei and Mark Liu although chairman Morris Chang re-iterated what he has said before – that the chairman remains the ultimate authority within Taiwanese companies.
In the fourth quarter the company made a net income of NT$44.81 billion (about $1.5 billion) on net revenue of NT$145.81 (about $4.84 billion). Net income as a percentage of sales and gross margin were all slightly affected by an inventory management slow down that the company had forecast earlier in the year and which it said would also have an affect in the first quarter of 2014.
Nonetheless Chairman Chang remained bullish about TSMC's performance for 2014 in comparison with competitors. Chang told analysts: "For full year 2014, we forecast the following industry numbers. For the worldwide semiconductor industry we forecast 5 percent growth. For the fabless industry we forecast 8 percent growth, and for the foundry industry, we forecast 10 percent growth. For TSMC, as I already did, we are forecasting revenue growth surpassing the growth of the foundry industry."
Chang added that the capital expenditure budget for 2014 has been set at between $9.5 billion and $10 billion, similar to that of 2013. About 95 percent of that budget is for advanced technologies at 28nm, 20nm and 16nm, plus R&D and mask-making operations, Chang said.
In the fourth quarter shipments of 28nm process technology was responsible for 34 percent of total revenues the company said. TSMC's volume production at 20nm has begun and in 2014 28nm and 20nm CMOS would drive revenues, the executives said with 16nm FinFET entering volume production within one year.
The 10nm FinFET process is due to qualify one year later, at the end of 2015.
"Currently 16-FinFET SRAM yield is already close to 20SoC. And with this status we are developing an enhanced transistor version of 16-FinFET plus, with 15 percent performance improvement. It will be the highest performance technology among all available 16 and 14nm technology in 2014," said Co-CEO Mark Liu. He added that back-end design rules would be similar to 16nm FinFET but that there would also be opportunities to use the Plus transistor to reduce standard cell size and therefore reduce chip size.
Liu said that the 16nm FinFET Plus would match the performance of Intel's 16nm FinFET process. "So from our intelligence, our 16-FinFET plus technology with 15 percent improvement on top of 16-FinFET is about the same as Intel's transistors," he said.
TSMC was more sober about prospects for Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography, despite the fact that it, alongside Intel and Samsung, has invested a lot of money in lithography equipment maker ASML Holding NV, to try and bring this technology home.
Liu said the current execution plan does not require EUV to produce 10nm process technology with all its layers produced using immersion lithography. "However, we have been working with ASML very closely and we set a target for their EUVs' throughputs. And together we have the ambition to improve the 10nm cost, if the EUV development in ASML can reach our target, the target we gave them." Nonethless EUV remains non-essential at 10nm but is a cost-reduction opportunity.
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