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Market slump to delay 32-/28nm era

Posted: 19 Jan 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:32nm node? IC design? high-k metal gate? foundry?

Economic factors could delay IC designs based on 32-/28nm processes, leaving the industry get on that technology for some time, according to Synopsys chairman and CEO Aart de Geus.

For years, leading-edge process technology has followed a two-year cycle. But based on the current inputs of tape-out activity, the 32-/28nm era could be delayed "one or two quarters," said de Geus said.

Those nodes represent a "resting point" for the IC industry, he said during a presentation at the Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS). This implies that the two-year process technology cycle could slow down, and, in effect, the 22nm era would get pushed out.

"Delay is not the right word," he said during a question and answer session. "The curve will simply slow down by a couple of quarters."

For some time, many have feared that the two-year process cycle will slow, thanks to soaring design and chip-production costs. The vast majority of chipmakers could also step on the process technology brakes amid the current and deep downturn.

Shrink away
There are no plans to slow down at two chipmakers: Intel Corp. and Qualcomm Inc. "Intel is committed to

the two-year cadence," said Steve Johnston, director of supplier technology integration for the technology manufacturing and engineering group at Intel Corp., during a presentation at ISS.

"I'm driving like a freight train to 28nm," said Jim Clifford, senior VP and general manager of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, at ISS.

At present, Qualcomm is in initial production of an undisclosed 45nm device. But like most cellphone chipmakers, the company is attempting to squeeze more functions on the IC. The 45nm cellphone devices "are too big," prompting the need for next-generation processes like 28nm, he said.

While the die shrink makes sense, Clifford questions whether the shift towards 28nm technology will provide the traditional cost-reduction benefits. For years, the shift towards the next process provides a 29 percent cost reduction.

Will 28nm provide the same benefit? "I don't know," said Clifford, who also questions whether the 28nm process rolls out among the foundries will be on time. "Is it really going to be Q2 2010?"

Fabless Qualcomm uses several foundries, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd, IBM's fab club and others. On the foundry side, silicon foundry giant TSMC late last year moved its 40nm process into volume production.

Who's the king?
TSMC's 32nm process is slated for shipment by the end of 2009. TSMC's first high-k/metal-gate offering, which is a 28nm process, is slated for the first quarter of 2010.

In comparison, IBM's Corp.'s "fab club," including Chartered, IBM and Samsung, is supposed to ship the high-k technology based on 32nm feature sizes by the second half of 2009.

Intel, considered the leader in logic process technology, is on track for 32nm production readiness in Q4 09. For some time, Intel has been shipping 45nm designs based on a high-k/metal-gate scheme.

In NAND, the Micron/Intel duo is leading the charge, as the companies are shipping 34nm parts. Seeking to take the technology lead in NAND flash, SanDisk Corp. disclosed that it will roll out 32nm devices in 2009. SanDisk's partner, Toshiba Corp., will also reportedly roll out 32nm NAND chips in the later part of 2009.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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