GlobalFoundries tips 14nm FinFETs with 20nm underpinnings

September 25, 2012 - GlobalFoundries announced it has developed a 14nm process technology "with elements of" its 20nm planar (LPM) process, which it says will offer improved battery life and higher performance vs. other 20nm 2D planar transistors.

The new process, dubbed 14-XM ("eXtreme Mobility"), is a nonplanar architecture optimized for mobile system-on-chip designs, the company claims. The new approach is promoted as a cost-effective and power-optimized FinFET technology ideally suited for the mobile SoC market, with an "ideal" balance between performance and power consumption, while minimizing both die size and cost. Designers also will be able to reuse much of their previous-generation IP.

Specifically, the 14nm-XM technology incorporates GlobalFoundries’ 20nm-LPM "middle-of-line" processes with tight design rules to enable 8T standard cells, and the 20nm-LPM "backend-of-line" (BEOL) to realize cost and density advantages, plus some "fin-friendly” layout rules for faster porting of existing design IP. Overall results are said to be 40%-60% improved battery life and 20%-55% higher performance (depending on operating voltage) vs. other 20nm 2D planar transistors; more details will be made available in coming months after silicon validation. (Here’s the official presentation [PDF download] describing the technology and its specific benefits; here’s an abridged version as an online slideshow.)

The new 14nm-XM process’ timing is noteworthy — GlobalFoundries’ 20nm process is slated to deliver silicon sometime in 2H12 and ramp in 2013, so this new 14nm process would follow barely a year later. (Intel unwrapped its own FinFET process in May 2011 and debuted first products this past spring.) The synergy between the two processes, 20nm planar and 14nm with FinFETs, "means we will be able to offer our customers the fastest path to FinFET with the least amount of risk," the company explains.

Further helping the speedy ramp-up is the ability to leverage the 10 years of FinFET R&D know-how of the Common Platform Alliance (mostly IBM). "Through our partnership in the Common Platform Alliance, we own more than 3/4 of the industry patents on FinFET technology. We are confident that this heritage of deep R&D will allow us to lead the foundry volume ramp of FinFETs as we did with HKMG," the company explains.

GlobalFoundries also has a new multiyear agreement with ARM to optimized the SoC technology for ARM processor designs on FinFET process technologies, extending an existing collaboration for the ARM Cortex-A processors that will now focus on production IP platforms "that will promote rapid migration to three-dimensional FinFET transistor technology."

Test silicon with the technology is already running through the company’s Fab 8 in New York, and early process design kits are already available. Customer tape-outs are planned for 2013 and a ramp to volume production is planned for 2014. (The foundry’s 20nm process itself is expected to ramp in 2013.)

FinFETs operate at lower Vdd and with low off-state leakage. (Image via GlobalFoundries)

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