TSMC starts 7nm volume production

TSMC starts 7nm volume production

TSMC starts 7nm volume production

The silicon manufacturing giant TSMC has announced that they have begun high volume production of chips using first generation 7nm FinFET process. So far the chip maker has over a dozen customers with several designs which will make use of the company’s manufacturing technology. 

Unlike 10nm, 7nm is designed to be used for high power products like CPUs, GPUs, FPGA and cryptocurrency mining ASICs, with 10nm only seeing use in a small number of mobile-oriented SoCs. This distinction makes 7nm a replacement for the company’s 16nm FinFET process, which is currently used to create most of Nvidia’s Pascal series of graphics cards, Sony’s PS4/Pro chips and Microsoft’s Xbox One S/X silicon. 

With 7nm chips can be made that with a 70% area reduction when compared to 16nm while maintaining the same transistor count and complexity, with up to a 60% drop in power consumption or a frequency increase of 30%. This size and performance advantage makes 7nm attractive for mobile phones, CPUs, GPUs and practically every other high-performance processor, as manufacturers can fit more transistors per unit area while delivering increased performance levels. 

TSMC’s Co-CEO and President, C. C. Wei said that “More than 50 products tape-outs has been planned by end of this year from applications across mobile, server CPU, network processor, gaming, GPU, PGA, cryptocurrency, automotive and AI”. This large number of product orders showcases the huge demand for a new process technology beyond 16nm and 10nm. 

Advertised Node changes from each new process tech
  20nm to 16nm FF 16nm FF to 10nm FF  16n FF to 7nm 10nm FF to 7nm FF 7nm FF to 7nm FF
Power 60% 40% 60% 10%
Performance 40% 20% 30% Unknown Higher Performance
Area Reduction None >50% 70% >37% Approx 17%

TSMC’s 7nm process makes use of Deep Ultraviolet (DUV) lithography, though the downside of this is that customers will need to expensive multi-patterning techniques to achieve the levels of complexity that they desire. Globalfoundries plans to use the same triple and quadruple patterning techniques with their 7nm manufacturing process, giving neither side an advantage over the other.  

Both TSMC and GlobalFoundries plan to augment their 7nm processes with EUV technology to reduce the complexity of their nodes with 7nm. This change removes the need for high levels of multi-patterning, making 7nm easier to produce, while also delivering performance and area enhancements to users. 

AMD currently plans to use 7nm technology from both TSMC and Globalfoundries, developing different product lines with each manufacturer. Right now it seems likely that AMD intends to tap TSMC for GPU orders and Globalfoundries for CPU orders for their Navi and Zen 2 products respectively. 

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