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TSMC postpones mass production of 16nm chips to Q2 2015

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. on Thursday gave an update regarding the status of its 16nm fabrication processes. The company said that it is satisfied with the yield, but at the same time postponed the start of mass production using its 16nm manufacturing technology from early 2015 to the second or even the third quarter of 2015.

TSMC’s 16nm FinFET (CLN16FF)and 16nm FinFET+ (which TSMC officially calls 16nm FinFET Plus) process technologies rely on the back-end-of-line (BEOL) interconnect flow of the company’s 20nm SOC (CLN20SOC) fabrication process, but use FinFET transistors instead of planar transistors. This provides additional performance and/or power savings, but this does not allow to significantly shrink the size of chips compared to chips made using the 20nm SOC. The proven BEOL interconnect flow means that it will be easier for TSMC to start mass production of chips using its 16FF and 16FF+ manufacturing technologies.

But while TSMC is happy with the initial yields of its 16nm FinFET process technologies, it will not start mass production using the tech in early 2015, like it planned, but will initiate volume manufacturing in Q2 or even Q3.

“On the yield learning side, the progress [of 16nm] is much better than our original plan,” said C.C. Wel, co-CEO of TSMC. “This is because the 16nm uses similar [BEOL] process to 20SOC, except for the transistor. Because of the excellent progress in yield learning and readiness in manufacturing maturity and also to meet customers’ demand, we plan to pull in 16-nanometer volume production through the end of Q2 next year or early Q3 year 2015.”

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At present TSMC expects to have close to 60 16nm tape-outs by the end of next year. At present the company has about 30 20nm tape-outs, hence, it is evident that the 16nm technology is more popular among its customers than the 20nm tech.

The actual reason why TSMC decided to delay mass production of chips on the 16nm node is unclear. The world’s largest contract maker of semiconductors continuously expands its 20nm/16nm capacities, but demand for 20nm chips is growing rapidly because of Apple, for which TSMC builds the A8/A8X processors. As sales of the new iPhones and iPads increase, Apple is boosting orders to TSMC and thus requires higher production capacities. It is possible that TSMC decided to make sure it has sufficient amount of capacities for everyone and delayed the ramp-up of 16nm manufacturing.

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KitGuru Says: It will be interesting to see the competition between products made using 20nm and 16nm process technologies at TSMC next year. From the cost perspective they should be the same, but 16nm chips will be faster and more power efficient.

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