Over a year ago, TSMC announced a 90-nanometer technology alignment initiative with major IDMs and fabless companies to define a common set of design rules, electrical specifications and transistor characteristics for the new process. Nine months ago, TSMC introduced its 90-nm Nexsys technology for systems-on-chip (SoCs). Many of the technical parameters built into the 90-nm process at the heart of that introduction have been reflected in the ongoing collaboration initiative, which now includes a good number of the world's leading IC companies.
The technology alignment is well under way. Here's why. From Internet-enabled cell phones that double as cameras, to PCs with interactive gaming capabilities, technology advancement has made possible innovative new products at a remarkable rate. As more features are shoehorned into these products, power and performance requirements increase dramatically -- motivating designers to target their designs to the most advanced technologies.
In the near future, innovative products will be targeted to the 90-nanometer process. There won't be many alternatives, primarily because only a few companies have the roadmap, capital, R&D resources, leading-edge manufacturing environment, and return on equity to justify the investment.
Every major IDM has done the math in this respect, and most have decided against pursuing 90-nanometer technology on their own. In fact, there will be very few companies that can independently develop a 90-nanometer technology. TSMC's approach is simple: We believe a successful 90-nanometer technology ramp requires pro-active, multi-party collaboration around a common set of design rules, including transistor and electrical characteristics. This type of collaboration is called "process alignment."
This isn't to say that the resulting process is identical for all parties. It is not. The technical know-how of individual collaborators remains completely confidential. In the end, each company has a platform that supports its distinct requirements. Multi-party collaboration reduces the redundancy normally associated with separate development efforts.
This applies not only for TSMC, but also for third-party library, IP and EDA tools providers, and all our customers. The result is a far more easily managed effort that manifests itself in faster time-to-volume. Another benefit of this approach is that all the collaborators will have TSMC's manufacturing support behind it -- including our ability to quickly ramp high volumes of chips, with industry leading quality and reliability.
In summary, while a good deal of innovation takes place at the systems level, manufacturing processes are a key element that empowers that innovation. Collaboration on process technology through technology alignment now plays, and will continue to play, an important role. Technology alignment provides benefits that go well beyond the bounds of process technology.
Most importantly, it supports the development of vast portfolios of third party libraries and IP. This is significant because it allows designers to focus on building differentiating features into their products, knowing with confidence that the manufacturing environment is available to turn their innovative ideas into profitable products.
Genda Hu is vice president of corporate marketing at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).