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Foundries Head to 5nm and Beyond

August 7, 2018

Author: Linley Gwennap

Moore’s Law is dead; long live Moore’s Law! Although new manufacturing nodes no longer offer the same economic and performance benefits they once did, the leading foundries continue to develop smaller and lower-power transistors for their most demanding customers. TSMC recently became the first chipmaker in production at 7nm, and it’s poised to maintain its technology lead through 2020. But after a pause at 10nm, Samsung plans to regain the lead with a roadmap that extends to 3nm in 2021.

Reaching these new nodes will require more than just shrinking transistors. EUV will finally enter mass production in 2019, providing more-accurate patterning of the smallest features. At tiny diameters, copper interconnects become a bottleneck and are being replaced in some layers by cobalt. Adding germanium and III-IV materials could extend FinFETs to smaller processes. We expect new gate-all-around (GAA) transistors to debut at the 3nm node.

While TSMC and Samsung race to 7nm and beyond, Intel’s manufacturing engine has stalled at 14nm. The company now expects its 10nm process, which is similar to the foundries’ 7nm, to enter production in 2H19. This latest slip leaves Intel more than a year behind TSMC. GlobalFoundries now expects its 7nm technology to enter production in 2H19 as well, and it has yet to disclose a schedule for subsequent FinFET nodes.

Ongoing increases in lithography and other processing costs for the recent FinFET nodes provided little or no reduction in cost per transistor. We expect to see modest transistor-cost reduction at 7nm and 5nm, and the move to GAAFETs could make 3nm an expensive node. These gains will be far smaller than Moore predicted, making new nodes best suited to performance- and power-sensitive chip designs.

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