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TSMC reveals new 16nm FinFET+ process, vows to start 10nm production in Q4 2015

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. this week unveiled an improved version of its 16nm FinFET process technology that will hit volume production in 2015. In addition, the company revealed some details regarding its 10nm FinFET fabrication process and said that it would start risk production using the technology in Q4 2015, so volume production will commence sometimes in 2016 – 2017.

At present TSMC and its customers are experimenting with risk production of chips using 16nm FinFET manufacturing process (CLN16FF), which will be used to make commercial chips starting early 2015. However, the company has already developed 16nm FinFET+ fabrication process that will be utilised to make chips in volume later in 2015. In fact, TSMC expects the majority of its customers to use the 16nm FinFET+ version of the process due to its noticeable benefits compared to the original.

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According to TSMC, 16nm FinFET+ provides up to 15 per cent performance improvement over the 16nm FinFET at the same level of power consumption. At the same clock-rate, chips produced using 16nm FinFET+ are expected to consume 30 per cent less power compared to the same chips made using 16nm FinFET. Products manufactured using 16nm FinFET+ will offer up to 40 per cent speed improvement over chips made using 20nm technology.

Design rules of 16nm FinFET and 16nm FinFET+ are the same, everything is largely compatible. In general, 16nm FinFET designs can easily be produced on the 16nm FinFET+ node with minimal changes (if needed). The process will be fully qualified by September. According to TSMC, its fabs are 95 per cent ready to produce chips using 16nm FinFET+. It should be noted that 20nm manufacturing capacities that are online now and which are scheduled to be online this year are 95 per cent ready to produce chips using 16nm FinFET, so expect TSMC to be able to ramp up volume production using both 16nm FinFET and 16nm FinFET+ very quickly.

First fifteen 16nm FinFET+ tape-outs are planned for 2014, another 45 are scheduled for 2015. Previously it was reported that TSMC expected 25 16nm FinFET tape-outs in 2014.

It is interesting to note that there is a rumour about yet another 16nm process technology from TSMC called 16nm FinFET turbo. So far TSMC has not confirmed them.

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While the 16nm FinFET and 16nm FinFET+ will be TSMC’s next step(s), the following step after that will be 10nm FinFET manufacturing process. It will be the company’s third-generation technology with FinFET transistors and it is expected to further cut power consumption and increase performance.

Based on TSMC’s predictions, its 10nm FinFET will offer over 25 per cent clock-rate improvement over the 16nm FinFET+ at the same power, it is expected to be 45 per cent more energy efficient and it is predicted to provide 2.2 times higher density over 16nm FinFET+. Currently 10nm FinFET development is in progress, the risk production is on-track to start in Q4 2015.

If everything goes as planned, TSMC ramps up volume production using its new technologies a year after the beginning or risk production and there will no delays, then expect companies like AMD, Nvidia and Qualcomm to offer chips produced using 16nm technologies in 2015 – 2016 and 10nm fabrication process in late-2016 – 2017.

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KitGuru Says: TSMC these days is showing maximum agility when it comes to development of new process technologies and ramping up production capacities. With 10nm FinFET fabrication process on-track for volume manufacturing in 2017, the company will compete head to head against Intel, which is also expected to start production of Airlake/Cannonlake processors using 10nm process technology in late-2016. However, since each new process technology becomes more complex, chips produced at the leading edge will get more expensive.

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