Processor intellectual property licensor ARM Holdings plc (Cambridge, England) and the foundry chip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (Hsinchu, Taiwan) have signed a multi-year agreement to work together to deliver processor IP to the ARMv8-A 64-bit capable instruction set architecture in support of customer tape-outs on 10nm FinFETs as early as the fourth quarter of 2014.
TSMC is currently ramping 20nm planar CMOS manufacturing process but is expected to start volume production on chips on 16nm FinFETs in 2015. With the latest agreement the duo appear to be targeting volume production of the next-generation of the process technology one year after that, in 2016.
Typically Moore's Law has seen process transitions every two years but the major change from planar CMOS to FinFET structures, where transistors are etched into fins standing proud of the silicon surface, and Intel's pioneering adoption of the FinFET at 22nm have stimulated a faster pace of development.
The partnership between ARM and TSMC is longstanding and the 10nm agreement follows on from similar agreements between the two companies at 20nm, and 16nm.
The improvement in power, performance, area (PPA) trade-off that can be gained by moving to 10nm from 16nm will be better than at previous nodes, TSMC said.
The 16nm/14nm FinFET node as being deployed across the industry is notorious for being based on the replacement of the transistor structure while keeping the back-end interconnect regime largely the same. Thus although 16/14 transistors provide improved performance-power and are smaller than previous planar transistors the overall IC area is much the same as the 20nm planar CMOS node. TSMC having started work with customers with a 16FF manufacturing process is also preparing a 16FF-plus process to try and deliver further 15 percent improvement in performance (see TSMC Tweaks 16nm FinFET to Match Intel).
"TSMC has continuously been the lead foundry to introduce advanced process technology for ARM-based SoCs," said Cliff Hou, TSMC vice president of R&D. “Together with ARM, we proved out in silicon the high performance and low power of the big.LITTLE architecture as implemented in 16FinFET. Given the successful adoption of our previous collaborative efforts, it makes sense that we continue this fruitful partnership with ARM in future 64-bit cores and 10FinFET."
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