Globalfoundries, the contract maker of semiconductors controlled by Advanced Technology Investment Company and Advanced Micro Devices, said that it would develop 20nm process technology, along with 22nm fabrication process. Besides, the company indicated that the so-called half-node process technologies would continue to exist, despite of the recent trends.
Recently Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company announced plans to skip 22nm process technology and to move straight to 20nm instead. In addition, both leading contract makers of semiconductors – Globalfoundries and TSMC – decided to skip 32nm bulk process technologies. While Globalfoundries has done this because of certain business reasons, TSMC had too many problems with 40nm to use the same materials and design with 32nm. Previously, almost everyone in the foundry industry have introduced so-called half-node processes, e.g. 55nm, which was a derivative of the 65nm. Although these practices show that full-node processes are losing importance, Globalfoundries claims that going forward both half-node and full-node process technologies will co-exist.
20nm Incoming from Globafoundries
For Globalfoundries there are two businesses: manufacturing of AMD’s leading-edge microprocessors and production of more simplistic chips, hence, the company by definition has to invest into a number of process technologies.
“We are investing in both the 22nm and 20nm nodes. While half-nodes are certainly becoming an increasing trend there is still high-volume segments like the microprocessor business that require full node transitions,” said Jon Carvill, the director of corporate communications at Globalfoundries.
In theory, it is logical to assume that transition from 28nm to 22nm process technology will make less economic sense than transition from 40nm to 28nm. However, jumping directly from 28nm to 20nm essentially kills 16nm fabrication process. Not that simple, says Globalfoundries.
“It is too early to tell on the exact performance/power efficiency benefits transition from 28nm to 22nm/20nm node will yield. As the geometries get smaller so will the levels of the shrinks. That doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be benefits as or more compelling then what we’ve seen in previous generations,” said Mr. Carvill.
In fact, even in the world of bulk chips both full-node processes and half-node processes will co-exist.
“We don’t see that happening imminently as high volume processor designers like AMD and Intel continue to develop on both full node and half node technology,” said the Globalfoundries spokesman.
Fewer Semiconductor Manufacturers to Survive
Development of leading-edge manufacturing processes costs hundreds of millions, if not billions, as a result, every new node essentially throws out a smaller semiconductor maker from the market.
“Staying on the leading-edge for process technology will present increasing challenges in the marketplace both in cost and complexity. Technology development for a new leading-edge node is now in the billion dollar plus range, new fabs [cost] well in excess of $4 billion. Those costs will be prohibiting for many companies in the marketplace and have the potential to cause further consolidation as well an increased exit in the in-house IDM model of manufacturing,” said Jon Carvill.