Globalfoundries looks leapfrog fab rivals with new process

In an unexpected move, Globalfoundries Inc. said Thursday (Sept. 20) it plans to offer 14-nanometer process technology featuring FinFET three-dimensional transistors in 2014, just one year after the foundry’s 20-nm process is scheduled to enter production. The move could allow…

In an unexpected move, Globalfoundries Inc. said Thursday (Sept. 20) it plans to offer 14-nanometer process technology featuring FinFET three-dimensional transistors in 2014, just one year after the foundry’s 20-nm process is scheduled to enter production.

The move could allow Globalfoundries (Milpitas, Calif.) to leapfrog foundry rivals and pose a challenge to Intel Corp.’s semiconductor process technology supremacy.

“Globalfoundries is getting extremely aggressive in their manufacturing roadmap,” said Len Jelinek, director and chief analyst at IHS iSuppli. “They recognize that in order to be in a technology leadership position foundry, they have to be in a leading position across all semiconductor manufacturing, including Intel.”

Globalfoundries said its 14-nm XM process combines a 14-nm class FinFET and elements of the company’s 20-nm low power process. Executives said the 14-nm FinFETs have a 48-nm fin pitch, the same as the company expects Intel Corp. to feature on its 14-nm tri-gate process. Other feature size measurements are also identical to what Intel is expected to offer at 14-nm, they said.

The acceleration of its process technology development roadmap will likely give Globalfoundries a clear technology lead over other dedicated foundry suppliers. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) and United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) have indicated that they plan to integrate FinFETs in their 20-nm processes, which UMC is set to put in production in the second half of 2014 and TSMC likely some time after.

Executives said the new process would give customers the technology needed to compete with Intel, the undisputed leader in semiconductor process technology. Intel began production of 22-nm devices with FinFETS—which Intel calls tri-gates—earlier this year.

Mike Noonan, executive vice president of worldwide marketing and sales at Globalfoundries, said the company pulled in its roadmap specifically to “intercept” Intel at 14-nm. “The goal is to give our customers the power and performance to compete with Intel,” Noonan said.

 

FinFETs are three-dimensional, double gate transistors that have been the subject of research by companies and universities for more than a decade. FinFETs consume less power than conventional transistors. Globalfoundries maintains that its 14-nm XM technology is expected to deliver a 40 to 60 percent improvement in battery life compared with today’s two-dimensional transistors.

Process design kit available now
Although Globalfoundries competes head to head with TSMC, UMC and other dedicated foundries, Jelinek maintains that the company’s primary competition is Intel. Globalfoundries is now No. 2 in foundry sales, but the company still trails TSMC by a wide margin. Globalfoundries is seeking to establish itself as the process technology leader among foundries largely because its largest customer, Advanced Micro Devices Inc., is Intel’s chief competitor in the market for PC processors.

“They are not going to try to grow and become No. 1 foundry player in the world. They know they cannot get there,” Jelinek said. “What they can do is become the technology leader in the space, and that’s what they are trying.”

According to G. Dan Hutcheson, chairman of market research and consulting firm VLSI Research Inc., no chip maker has ever moved to a new process technology node two years in a row. “if they can pull this off, it will be a tremendous achievement,” Hutcheson said.

Subramani Kengeri, head of the advanced technology architecture for Globalfoundries’ office of the CTO, said the similarities between the company’s 20-nm low power process and the 14-nm XM process would enable customers to leverage much of the design work for the 20-nm process on the new process. About 7,000 design rules are the same between both processes, while about 60 new design rules will be added to account for the FinFET, Kengeri said.

The 14-nm XM process utilizes the same middle and back end of line processes as Globalfoundries’ 20-nm low power process, which is set to go into production next year.

Technology development of the 14-nm XM process is already underway, with test silicon running through Globalfoundries’ Fab 8 in upstate New York., the company said. Early process design kits are available now, with customer product tape-outs expected in 2013.