TSMC is partnered with some of the biggest names in the computing business, including AMD, Apple, Nvidia, and Qualcomm. Those firms come up with the chip designs, and TSMC turns 'em into working silicon. Right now, the foundry's most advanced fabrication technology uses 28-nm transistors. What about the next node?
A technology roadmap published by EE Times indicates that 20-nm chips should start rolling off TSMC's production line next year. Like its current 28-nm process, the 20-nm chips will use traditional planar transistors. 3D transistors, otherwise known as FinFETs, are coming at the 16-nm node. The first silicon based on TSMC's 16-nm process is expected to tape out at the end of next year. That test chip will reportedly be based on ARM's 64-bit V8 processor; the two companies announced a partnership in July to build 64-bit chips based on FinFET technology.
TSMC's 16-nm FinFET process will reportedly be similar to its 20-nm one. The foundry doesn't expect the FinFET process to lower leakage power, but it does say performance will go up by as much as 35%. "Total power consumption" is supposed to fall by the same percentage, according to TSMC R&D Vice President Cliff Hou.
Using a next-gen ARM processor to validate its 16-nm FinFET process should give TSMC's SoC customers confidence in its ability to churn out chips for smartphones and tablets. ARM is also working with GlobalFoundries on FinFETs, which are being used by that foundry's 14-nm "eXtreme Mobility" process. It will be interesting to see how smoothly GloFo and TSMC bring their transistors into the third dimension. Intel, of course, started shipping FinFET transistors in its Ivy Bridge processors earlier this year.