Major 32nm process technologies compared

The semiconductor industry is gearing up for a 32nm battle royale, with Intel, IBM, GlobalFoundries, TSMC, and others all prepping competing technologies at the same node. How will they match up? Fresh from the 2008 International Electron Devices Meeting and the 2009 VLSI Symposia, David Kanter of Real World Technologies has posted an in-depth article that seeks to answer that question.

Kanter's comparison includes IBM's high-k metal gate (HKMG) 32nm bulk and silicon-on-insulator processes, which GlobalFoundries should use to manufacture chips for AMD next year. The article also examines TSMC's performance 32nm HKMG process, which should be used to make future graphics processors, and Intel's performance HKMG tech, which we'll see in Clarkdale processors either late this year or in early 2010.

Now, some parts of this piece will probably be well over most readers' heads—unless they happen to have electrical engineering or semiconductor design backgrounds, that is, in which case we expect them to nod their heads slowly and go, "Hmm, yes, very interesting." How else do you expect seasoned engineers to react to graphs like these?

The rest of us might want to skip ahead to page 11, which includes a more accessible and quite interesting overview of the aforementioned processes (plus others from TI and Fujitsu). Here, Kanter comments that IBM's 32nm SOI and Intel's 32nm bulk technologies "have the best transistor performance by a wide margin and with almost identical results." He adds, "This suggests that on paper, Intel, IBM and AMD will be at parity for performance. Although Intel will be in production in late 2009, a year ahead of IBM and AMD."

Kanter makes other interesting observations. Intel's current 45nm process is "ahead of all other production processes," including TSMC's bulk 32nm process. Also, IBM's 32nm bulk process is "closely matched" with TSMC's. That means competition between GlobalFoundries and TSMC at the 32nm node may be quite heated.

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