Giant TSMC cuts its customers' options

Chipmaker TSMC has decided to go all Henry Ford over its 20nm (nanometres)  fabrication process.

Basically it is allowing its customers to have any sort of process they want, provided that it is the same one that TSMC is providing.

TSMC has been getting a bit of stick about its inability to supply enough chips made using leading edge 28nm process with high-k metal gate (HKMG) technology.

According to Xbit Labs, to avoid having a similar problem with its 20nm fabrication process, the outfit is limiting its customers’ options.

At the moment, manufacturers have been designing on the basis of the idea that they can create special versions of each process technology in a bid to meet particular requirements.

TSMC has decided to offer only one flavour of its 20nm fabrication process, but to consider the  possibility to introduce “half-node” 16nm or 18nm technologies.

To put this in perspective, the company offers four versions of 28nm process technology: 28LP (poly/SiON) for low-power cost-efficient chips, 28HPL (HKMG) for low-power applications, 28HP (HKMG) for high-performance chip designs and 28HPM (HKMG) that combines elements of high-performance and low-power process technologies.

Shang-yi Chiang, executive vice president and co-chief operating officer at TSMC, said the firm might offer an 18nm or 16nm process node after 20nm if lithography technology is not available to make 14nm devices cost effectively.

If it turns out to be impossible to make 14nm chips in a cost efficient manner, chip designers may rely on half-node technologies like 16nm or 18nm.

TSMC is worried that extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography that is needed to produce chips at 14nm process will not be available by 2015.

The process uses far too much electricity and the company cannot find a good cheap source.