TSMC eyes seven nanometre process

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) has confirmed that pilot production of its 20 nanometre process will begin in the second half of 2012.

The firm’s senior vice president in charge of R&D, S.Y. Chiang announced that its first foray into 450 millimetre wafer production would occur late next year, following on from the 28 nm pilot production in the second quarter of this year.

Chiang also noted that TSMC would begin its volume production phase of the 28nm technology towards the end of 2011, producing more than twice as many chips as the 40 nm process, with IC designs being finalised this year.

All of which fits in with Moore’s Law, stating that the numbers of transistors will roughly double every eighteen months since the 1965 invention of integrated circuits. But semiconductor expert Malcolm Penn said  that TSMC’s announcement about the new process is “like saying Christmas will be happening in December this year”.

With regards to future adherence to Moore’s Law, Chiang estimates that the rule will remain applicable to the semi industry until at least when the  seven nanometre process comes into production.

Chiang also predicted that the room for cooperation between both silicon foundries and chip assemblers will increase as the size of single chips and system chips continues to be scaled down.

Penn agrees that the shrinking of process size will continue up until the seven nanometre threshold, where the way that the physics involved in the circuits begins to change.

“At this point it becomes a different ball game,” Penn said, “with molecular level circuits and talk of single atom transistors as the physics change from here on out.”

This is where new developments in graphene based circuitry, spintronics and other exotic developments which are occurring in labs at early stages of research come into play.

Such technologies are a good while from becoming viable in production on a large level, but Penn believes we have around ten to fifteen years before the 7nm process is reached.

Up until then, though, Penn believes that progression should remain steady, with the step on the horizon being 16 or 14 nm, “depending on what your marketing department decides as they are both pretty much exactly the same.”