An important milestone has been reached on the path to next-generation SoCs. According to EE Times, ARM and TSMC have completed the first tape-out of a Cortex-A57 processor on TSMC's 16-nm FinFET process. The Cortex-A57 is a 64-bit CPU based on the new ARMv8 architecture, while the fabrication process is TSMC's first to employ "3D" transistors similar to those in Intel's current 22-nm tech.
ARM and TSMC have been working together since last summer, when they announced a partnership to build 64-bit ARM processors using FinFET technology. This initial tape-out is for a test chip rather than a finished product, so don't expect 16-nm SoCs to be flying off the production line anytime soon. In a TSMC press release, Vice President of R&D Cliff Hou claims the tape-out "demonstrates that the next-generation ARMv8 processor is FinFET-ready for TSMC’s advanced technology." That should at least give potential licensees some confidence in TSMC's ability to churn out chips based on ARM's 64-bit hotness.
The EE Times article says an ARM spokesperson noted that "Cortex-A57 power-performance-area trade-offs will not be finalized until further in the collaboration." That said, TSMC reportedly expects its 16-nm FinFET process to enable a 40% increase in performance over the foundry's 28-nm process.
ARM is also working with GlobalFoundries on FinFET chips. We learned in February that GloFo's first implementation of non-planar transistors will be in its 14-nm process, and that an ARM Cortex-A9 CPU core has already been used as a test vehicle for that process. GloFo's 14-nm process purportedly offers a 61% performance improvement over the foundry's super-low-power 28-nm process.
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