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TSMC guns for 7nm with EUV scanners

Posted: 09 Dec 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:7nm? EUV? 10nm? lithography?

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) plans to acquire two extreme ultraviolet (EUV) scanners next year, according to ASML NV, Europe's largest maker of chip-production equipment. The new scanners are expected to optimise TSMC's process technology, potentially to 7nm

"The EUV scanners are for 10nm," said ASML executive vice president Frits van Hout in an interview on the sidelines of a TSMC event on Dec. 4. "They're going to use them to prepare for production in 7nm."

TSMC spokesperson Elizabeth Sun declined to comment.

The shift towards EUV may signal a switch in the conventional wisdom on the next generation of lithography equipment. The earlier expectation was for chipmakers to use traditional immersion lithography for production of 10nm chips instead of the long-delayed EUV systems.

ASML said on November 24 that TSMC has ordered two NXE:3350B EUV systems for delivery in 2015 with the intention to use the systems in production. In addition, ASML said two NXE:3300B systems already delivered to TSMC would be upgraded to NXE:3350B performance.

Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, earlier this year said that it saw a way to drive Moore's Law down to 7nm even without EUV.

Still, ASML now says the scales may have tipped in favour of EUV technology.

"It's a question of when EUV is mature enough to put into production," van Hout said. "TSMC [is] the first mover, and I guess everyone will discover that the laws of physics are pretty much the same everywhere in the world and come to similar conclusions when the time is right for them."

Pushing process technology

Intel and TSMC have been injecting money in ASML to push process technology.

In July 2012, Intel agreed to invest up to $4.1 billion in ASML to speed the adoption of EUV. In August of the same year, TSMC agreed to invest $1.4 billion in ASML to secure the latest production knowhow.

ASML brushed off some of Intel's recent scepticism regarding the viability of EUV.

"You have to read very carefully what they say," van Hout said. "Everybody says 'we have a technical solution without EUV'. It's perfectly well demonstrated that it's possible, but they all say they'd like to use it (EUV) as quickly as possible to reduce the complexity, increase the yield and reduce the cost. So it's not a matter of whether they want it. They all need it and they can't achieve results without it."

7nm by 2018?

TSMC may be able to start production of 7nm chips as early as 2018 with the EUV scanners it's buying from ASML, according to van Hout.

"TSMC co-CEO Mark Liu said he'd like for the equipment to be ready for risk production by the end of 2015 and production in 2016," van Hout said. "They haven't made any announcement about when they'll do 7nm. Usually the cadence is two years, maybe slightly more than two years."


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