ARM, TSMC announce 10-nm manufacturing plans

— 3:01 PM on October 2, 2014

10-nm manufacturing seems to be everyone's minds today. This morning, Geoff wrote about SemiWiki's handicapping of the competitive matchup at the 10-nm node. Now, ARM and TSMC have unveiled their roadmap for the fabrication of 64-bit ARM processors using 10-nm FinFET technology:

HSINCHU, Taiwan & SANTA CLARA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--ARM® and TSMC today announced a new multi-year agreement that will deliver ARMv8-A processor IP optimized for TSMC 10FinFET process technology. Because of the success in scaling from 20SoC to 16FinFET, ARM and TSMC have decided to collaborate again for 10FinFET. This early pathfinding work will provide valuable learning to enable physical design IP and methodologies in support of customers to tape-out 10FinFET designs as early as Q4 2015.

FinFETs are, of course, the industry term for what Intel calls 3D or tri-gate transistors—that is, transistors with three-sided, fin-like conductive channels. If 10-nm FinFET ARMv8 chips start taping out (that is, going from blueprints to manufacturing) in the fourth quarter of next year, then I wouldn't expect shipments until 2016 or later.

The announcement says ARM and TSMC are partnering up again because of how well they were able to scale from 20-nm to 16-nm FinFET manufacturing. On Tuesday, the two companies announced the results of validation efforts involving 64-bit Cortex-A-series chips fabbed on 16-nm FinFET tech. The chips have what ARM calls a big.LITTLE configuration, with a large Cortex-A57 processor backed by a small, low-power Cortex-A53 one:

Silicon results on 16FF show the "big" Cortex-A57 processor achieving 2.3GHz for sustained mobile peak performance, as well as the "LITTLE" Cortex-A53 processor consuming only 75mW for most common workloads. The performance improvements are a result of the collaboration between ARM and TSMC to jointly optimize the 64-bit ARMv8-A processor series on FinFET process technologies and build on the successful tape-out of the Cortex-A57 processor on TSMC's 16FF process last year.

The first tape-out of a Cortex-A57 processor on TSMC's 16-nm FinFET process took place in April 2013. At the time, TSMC promised that the transition from 28 nm to 16 nm FinFET would yield a 40% increase in performance.

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