Today processor developer ARM and chip manufacturer TSMC announced a new multi-year agreement to work towards bringing the ARMv8-A processor IP, that’s the more recent 64-bit design, to TSMC’s future 10nm FinFET manufacturing process.
The aim is to reach the tape-out stage, where the chip design is finalized for manufacturing, for the 10FinFET design as early as Q4 2015. The reason for the joint venture stems from the successful scaling of ARM processors using TSMC’s 20nm process down to 16FinFET, and the two want to continue this relationship through to the next manufacturing technique.
“Together with ARM, we proved out in silicon the high performance and low power of the big.LITTLE architecture as implemented in 16FinFET. Given the successful adoption of our previous collaborative efforts, it makes sense that we continue this fruitful partnership with ARM in future 64-bit cores and 10FinFET.” – Dr. Cliff Hou, TSMC vice president of R&D
The fine details of FinFET vs current transistor production methods are rather technical. But for those who are interested in a brief explanation, essentially FinFET changes over to a 3D transistor production method, allowing the designer to wrap the gate around the source/drain. This additional surface area enables the use of lower threshold voltages and therefore power, and also helps to assert finer control over the transistor’s on and off state and leakage currents, which might otherwise be a problem at such small sizes.
ARM’s Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57 processors have already reached the tape-out stage for 16FinFET, and TSMC is expected to enter trial production of its 16FinFET process at the end of this year. With volume production beginning sometime in early 2015.
For us consumers, smaller production techniques will eventually lead to more energy efficiency products, with the potential for higher clock speeds and even more transistors in a chip. We won’t see 10FinFET production for a number of years, but it’s good to know that future smartphones will benefit from the technology at some point down the line.