Semiconductors and Components

TSMC Tips Low-Voltage Processes Aimed at Wearables, IoT

29 September 2014

Leading pure-play foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (Hsinchu, Taiwan) has introduced low-voltage options for its manufacturing processes at 55, 40 and 28nm aimed particularly at chips for the Internet of Things and wearable equipment markets.

The company said that the ULP processes – for ultra low power – could be used to reduce operating voltages by 20 to 30 percent, from previous norms at each node and thereby enable increases in the battery life of equipment by a factor of between 2 to 10.

Established 28nm processes from TSMC have core voltage supply (Vcc) of between 0.85 and 1.05 volts suggesting that TSMC has sought to bring the voltage supply in ULP down to 0.7V. The 28nm processes have also operated with up to five selectable threshold voltages. The 40nm process platform has operated with three selectable threshold voltages.

Overall TSMC's ULP move represents a step towards the near-threshold-voltage operation of transistors, which is seen as a key technique in reducing power consumption although it has to applied with care as it comes at the expense of clock frequency and digital performance.

TSMC said its 55ULP, 40ULP and 28ULP line up support clock frequencies of up 1.2GHz, and complements the existing 0.18-micron extremely low leakage (0.18eLL) and 90nm ultra low leakage (90uLL) nodes, and its 16-nanometer FinFET technology, which are all suited for applications in the IoT and wearable device markets.

Radio and embedded flash non-volatile memory are also available in the 180nm and 40nm processes enabling monolithic integration of wireless communications within IoT system chips and TSMC was able to roll out key customers who are already working with the ULP processes.

These include CSR, Fujitsu Semiconductor, Nordic Semiconductor, Realtek and Silicon Labs.

Plenty of customers, production in 2015

TSMC stressed that customers can make "easily re-use" IP cores and libraries built on previous low-power processes for ULP designs and said that design engagements with early customers using 55ULP, 40ULP and 28ULP are scheduled in 2014 with "risk production" planned for 2015.

"For many years, CSR has collaborated closely with TSMC, and we are pleased to demonstrate the results of that collaboration with the adoption of the 40ULP platform for our next generation of Bluetooth Smart devices including products for markets like smart home, lighting and wearables that are enabling the growth of the Internet of Things," said Joep van Beurden, CEO at CSR, in a statement issued by TSMC. "

Fujitsu's Tom Miyake, corporate vice president at Fujitsu Semiconductor Ltd., is quoted welcoming the 28ULP process as something his company would use for its system-chips.

"We have been collaborating closely with TSMC on the selection of process technology for our upcoming nRF52 Series of ultra-low power RF SoCs. I am happy to announce that we have selected the TSMC 55ULP platform," said Svenn-Tore Larsen, CEO of Nordic Semiconductor, in the same statement. "This process is a key enabler for us to push the envelope on power consumption, performance and level of integration of the nRF52 Series to meet the future requirements of wearable and Internet of things applications."

Silicon Labs CEO Tyson Tuttle was also quoted welcoming the ULP initiative from TSMC but he did not mention a specific manufacturing process that the company would use.

Two companies well known for their work in near- and sub-threshold were notable for not being mentioned by TSMC. These were Ambiq Micro Inc. (Austin, Texas) and PsiKick Inc. (Charlottesville, Virginia).

Related links and articles:

IHS semiconductor manufacturing research

News articles:

China's HiSilicon First on TSMC FinFET Process

TSMC Shrinks 28nm CMOS Process

Estimote Leverages Nordic to develop Bluetooth Beacon Stickers

Startup Claims Wireless Chip Cuts Power 1000-Fold

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