Global Foundries laid out their roadmap for the next few years at Common Platform, and this time it went to the 10nm node. Lets take a look at it in greater detail, there are a few non-obvious points to talk about.
In their morning Common Platform (CP) keynote, Global Foundries Mike Noonen, Executive VP, Global Sales, Marketing, Quality, and Design did something unusual, he admitted the company botched something. More interestingly, he did it publicly and directly when they said their 32nm HKMG process was not exactly what anyone wanted it to be when it was released. This basically says that they have fixed the internal processes that lead to the little ‘whoopsie’ with Llano and are confident that those dark days are behind them. We shall see, but we hope they are right, the foundry business needs more competition.
The roadmap laid out in the keynote out had a few new additions since last year, mainly the 20LPM, 14XM, and 10XM processes. Of these, two are what they sound like, one is not. In case you are wondering, XM stands for Extreme Mobility, XM just sounds better to the ‘Mountain Dew’ generation than EM which is probably why it was chosen.
The roadmap in coarse detail
All of the 32nm, 28nm, and 20nm processes have been announced previously, although a few suffixes have been added. The 20nm process is about what you expected, the next step in planar transistors shrunk to 20nm. There are no FinFETs like Intel is using at 22nm, but GloFo and the CP partners are moving to gate last this time around. This entire process is pretty evolutionary.
That changes quite a bit on the 14XM process, it is most definitely not evolutionary on the transistor front but the rest is. Because of the way the last one was announced, we didn’t bother to write it up at the time but it is worth looking at. Unlike what the name implies, 14XM is not really a full shrink of the 20LPM node to 14nm, it is only half way there. 14XM uses the middle and back end of line (MEOL and BEOL) from the 20nm node couples to the new 14nm FinFETs.
Global Foundries says this effective reuse of the entirety of the non-transistor bits of 20LPM will pull in 14XM, lower cost presumably through the reuse of existing equipment, and lower customer design costs because most of the software for 20nm just carries over. While we have no doubt this is true, it seems like a bit of cheating to do it this way. Since we are not nearly versed enough in the minutia of these 20nm and 14nm processes to say what the exact technical trade-offs are, we will wait until more information comes out to say for sure.
Depending on your views about what GloFo and the CP partners are doing, you could consider 14Xm to be a full shrink of 20LPM or a minor technical half-step. Whatever you classify 14XM to be, the 10XM process is really a full shrink. Starting with test runs in late 2015, 10XM will be a second generation FinFET process with a true 10nm MEOL and BEOL. All that 10XM carries over from 14XM is the number 1 and the letters XM.
Overall, GloFo did a good job in their keynote. They essentially came clean on the early 32/28nm problems that were nagging their reputation and laid out a clear path forward. The pulling in of 14nm may leave some people nervous, but given how much of the process is carried over from 20nm, as long as 20nm is OK, 14’s pull in should not be a big worry. The only problem we have with the roadmap as it stands is that 14XM really seems like a cheat, and that image is unlikely to be shaken until the chips that use it come out. At that time, the results will speak for themselves, until then, whispers will rule.S|A