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UMC looks to catch up with competitors with IBM deal

Posted: 03 Jul 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:FinFET transistor? 20nm node?

United Microelectronics Corp. has announced that it has received license from IBM technology to expedite the development of its 20nm process, including FinFET transistors, likely means that UMC will be the only pure-play foundry to offer FinFETs at the 20nm node.

With rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) possessing a wide technology gap Globalfoundries Inc. surpassing them to claim the No. 2 position in foundry sales, UMC hopes to make changes with this effort.

Both TSMC and Globalfoundries are currently planning to introduce FinFETs, a three-dimensional, fin-based multigate transistor, at the 14nm node in 2014 or 2015. Some advanced foundry customers, including Nvidia Corp., have preferred foundries to offer FinFETs earlier. There is speculation that both TSMC and Globalfoundries plan to alter their roadmaps to meet their customer's preference.

A spokesperson for Globalfoundries has stated that the company is evaluating a fully depleted silicon-on-insulator technology offering in 2013 for early-adopter customers who may benefit from an additional performance boost. Meanwhile, Intel Corp. has already produced chips with FinFETs, which it calls tri-gate transistors, at the 22nm node. Leading-edge fabless firms want the power consumption improvement promised by the technology.

The incorporation of FinFETs at 20nm will enable UMC to offer a low-power version of its 20nm process, in addition to a standard planar 20nm process. Neither TSMC nor Globalfoundries plan to have a low-power 20nm process. In April, TSMC executive vice president stated that the critical dimensions are so tight at 20nm that there isn't enough room for tweaking design rules to specify different gate lengths to enable different 20nm processes.

If UMC is able to offer a 20nm low-power process with FinFETs in time, it could be a major differentiator. It could be just what the company needs to regain some of the ground it lost in recent years.

With power consumption being a major issue in electronics today, the question of whether UMC can make an impact if they are able to offer a 20nm process with FinFETs when competitors do not still lingers. UMC's idea to offer FinFETs at 20nm is just a plan. Even with the IBM technology, there are no guarantees that developing the new process will go out without issues. The company has also offered no timetable with regards to the availability of this technology. If they follow through with this plan, the move could potentially make UMC relevant to leading edge foundry customers.

- Dylan McGrath
??EE Times US

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