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  • GloFo's 12nm FD-SOI: why it makes headlines in China

    As you've probably seen in (excellent!) recent semiwiki postings by Eric Esteve and Scotten Jones, 12nm FD-SOI has now officially joined the GlobalFoundries’ roadmap. Eric and Scotten did a great job of putting many things in perspective. But this is a big piece of news, so here I propose looking at it from yet another perspective, adding a few details from GloFo's press releases, and showing some supporting slides from their presentations at the FD-SOI Forum in Shanghai last month. Why the italics? Read on.

    Also read: GLOBALFOUNDRIES Extends the FDSOI Roadmap

    Also read: GlobalFoundries Enhances FDSOI Roadmap with 12FDX


    First, just to be clear, GloFo's target with 12FDX, as it's called, is intelligent, connected systems. They say it's beating 14/16nm FinFET on performance, power consumption (by 50%) and cost. Add back bias and it beats 10nm FinFET. Customer product tape-outs are expected to begin in the first half of 2019. That should put them in a pretty sweet spot for the leading edge of their target customers doing those “intelligent, connected systems”.

    No. of masks used-gf_12fdxroadmap_slide216.jpg

    (Courtesy: GlobalFoundries and SOI Consortium Shanghai FD-SOI Forum 2016)

    Overall, the GloFo news turned heads worldwide (hundreds of publications immediately picked up the news) – but especially in China. In fact, two important names in China's chip world figured amongst those quoted in the GloFo release.

    “We are excited about the GlobalFoundries 12FDX offering and the value it can provide to customers in China,” said Dr. Xi Wang. He's Director General and Academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences (a tremendously important institution in China, both historically, and now it would seem going forward), as well as the founder of the Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology (aka SIMIT – you'll be hearing a lot more about them, so stay tuned). So Dr. Xi Wang continued his supporting statement, saying, “Extending the FD-SOI roadmap will enable customers in markets such as mobile, IoT, and automotive to leverage the power efficiency and performance benefits of the FDX technologies to create competitive products.”

    Another name to watch for is Wayne Dai, CEO of VeriSilicon (headquartered in Shanghai but designing for the world’s biggest names in the chip biz, taping out over 50 chips/year). His company has been doing FD-SOI design for years: they are clear fans. Dai said, “We look forward to extending our collaboration with GlobalFoundries on their 12FDX offering and providing high-quality, low-power and cost-effective solutions to our customers for the China market [note: italics are mine]. The unique benefits of FD-SOI technologies enable us to differentiate in the automotive, IoT, mobility, and consumer market segments.”

    The ultra-thin FD-SOI wafers are where it all starts, and they’re ready to go in high volume, says Paul Boudre, CEO of SOI wafer leader Soitec (which, it so happens, recently welcomed a major new investor from China called NSIG -- founded by Dr. Xi Wang). “We are very pleased to see a strong momentum and a very solid adoption from fabless customers in 22FDX offering,” he adds. “Now this new 12FDX offering will further expand FD-SOI market adoption. This is an amazing opportunity for our industry just in time to support a big wave of new mobile and connected applications.”

    Isn't FD-SOI a potential game-changer for China, enabling the country's industry to leap ahead in key markets? Anyone see a pattern here?

    About 12

    GloFo’s 12FDXTM platform is building on the success of its 22FDXTM offering. And note that with 22, they're hitting all their targets.

    No. of masks used-glofo22fdxexecution.jpg

    (Courtesy: GlobalFoundries and SOI Consortium Shanghai FD-SOI Forum 2016)

    As such FDX is designed to enable the intelligent systems of tomorrow across a range of applications, from mobile computing and 5G connectivity to artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. Increased integration of intelligent components including wireless (RF) connectivity, non-volatile memory, and power management—all while driving ultra-low power consumption—are key selling points that FinFETs really can’t touch.

    The technology also provides the industry’s widest range of dynamic voltage scaling and promises unmatched design flexibility via software-controlled transistors—capable of delivering peak performance when and where it is needed, while balancing static and dynamic power for the ultimate in energy efficiency.

    No. of masks used-gf_12fdxslide20.jpg

    (Courtesy: GlobalFoundries and SOI Consortium Shanghai FD-SOI Forum 2016)

    So can we put the FD-SOI vs. FinFET battle to rest?

    “Some applications require the unsurpassed performance of FinFET transistors, but the vast majority of connected devices need high levels of integration and more flexibility for performance and power consumption, at costs FinFET cannot achieve,” posits GloFo CEO Sanjay Jha. “Our 22FDX and 12FDX technologies fill a gap in the industry’s roadmap by providing an alternative path for the next generation of connected intelligent systems. And with our FDX platforms, the cost of design is significantly lower, reopening the door for advanced node migration and spurring increased innovation across the ecosystem.”

    Notable kudos for 12FDX also came in from: G. Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VLSI Research; IBS CEO Handel Jones; Linley Group Founder Linley Gwennap; Dasaradha Gude, CEO of IP/design specialists INVECAS; Leti CEO Marie Semeria; and NXP VP Ron Martino (they’ve already started on 28nm FD-SOI for their i.MX line – read his superb explanations in semiwiki and in ASN here).

    Also read: Why is NXP moving to FD-SOI? (part 1 of 2)

    A steady stream of FD-SOI announcements from GloFo has followed – more on those soon. As Scotten Jone pointed out in a recent semiwiki piece on 12 FDX, “...FDSOI is finally positioned to take off in the market place.” And if the stars keep aligning, China could stack up to be a major player -- and driver.