TOKYO—For chip designers pondering the next-node choices for their new SoCs, the FD-SOI Forum held here Thursday (Jan. 21) yielded news they could use.
Key developments were:
- The mass production capacity of Samsung’s 28nm FD-SOI technology has matured.
- RF integration in FD-SOI chips is fast becoming a reality, as Samsung is offering a production version of its process development kit (PDK) for RF in the second quarter of this year.
- Globalfoundries’ 22nm FD-SOI platform, called 22nm FDX, offers ultra-lower power consumption with 0.4 volt operation.
- Globalfoundries now says that its 22nm FDX will be ready for high volume production in mid-2017.
But the biggest FD-SOI news, which surfaced as chatter and whispering during coffee breaks at the Forum (rather than on the formal agenda), is that Sony is looking to use FD-SOI for the image signal processor (ISP) on stacked CMOS Image Sensors (CIS).
Although this buzz was also confirmed outside the Forum, neither Globalfoundries nor Sony is talking.
Three industry sources, however, independently told EE Times that chip stack CIS will open FD-SOI’s much needed, genuine volume market. Sony, today, is the world’s largest CIS supplier.
Word on the street is that Sony will be working with Globalfoundries on chip stack CIS, instead of Samsung. The Japanese consumer electronics giant wants to avoid any potential conflict with Samsung (who is also in the CIS business).
Samsung: Mass production maturity
At the FD-SOI forum Thursday (Jan. 21) here, Samsung—officially and unequivocally—declared that the company has reached “mass production maturity” with its 28nm FD-SOI technology.
Armed with product-proven foundry offerings, the Korean giant is going great guns pitching 28nm FDSOI-based foundry service to a broader set of customers—beyond NXP (formally Freescale) and STMicroelectronics.
During the presentation by Yongjoo Jeon, system foundry director at Samsung Electronics, Samsung revealed that it taped out 12 FD-SOI chips in 2015, with plans for 16 tape-outs in 2016.
In a one-on-one interview with EE Times, Jeon said that Samsung is demonstrating to its customers today the “proven manufacturability” of FD-SOI “backed by real products.” In contrast, a year ago, Samsung dwelt on what it was learning about FD-SOI’s possibilities during its technology development process, he explained.
During his keynote, Babu Mandava, CEO of Ineda Systems and formerly a co-founder of Beceem Communications (acquired by Broadcom), summed up why FD-SOI is necessary for his company’s “hierarchical computing architecture,” dubbed as IoT 2.0 platform.
In order to monetize IoT, in which applications can be a mile-wide and an inch-deep, Mandava believes the world needs a single SoC platform that can “do different things in slightly different ways—but efficiently.” In short, he said, “You need a platform that can scale.”
To meet that goal, Ineda Systems designed a “hierarchical computing architecture” consisting of multiple master CPUs providing multi-tier performance, power and memory. Because such an IoT SoC needs contextual computing, low power connectivity, processor integration and always-on sensing, it can pose conflicting process requirements. It must offer the lowest always-on sensing power, lowest power RF and high-performance on demand, he explained.
IoT 2.0 requires new technologies (Source: Ineda Systems)
Rather than choosing between two divergent paths—lower power or higher performance—often presented in bulk CMOS processes, “we want both lower power and higher performance,” said Mandava.
“For IoT, connectivity is a must. I need to be connected without burning batteries,” he explained. “What we need is a wireless technology that can offer a cellular-like range, lower power like Bluetooth Low Energy and performance like WiFi that can becomes available on demand.”
Mandava noted, “Of course, such a wireless technology doesn’t exist today. The question is what we can do in the meantime, until the newer LTE or 5G standards emerge.”
Ineda Systems, which used a 40nm CMOS process from TSMC for one of its products and 28nm CMOS from Globalfoundries for another, plans to go with Globalfoundries’ 22nm FDX for the next node, said Mandava.
One of the biggest advantages of FD-SOI is its capacity for RF integration.
Ineda Systems’ CEO, for example, believes that RF integration can conserve power by 50 percent. Samsung’s Jeon promised at the Forum that the production version of PDK for RF “will be ready by the second quarter this year.”
Samsung’s foray into automotive
With the roll-out of FD-SOI foundry services, Samsung is making its first foray into the automotive market.
According to Jeon, Samsung now has an automotive qualified [“Grade 2”] production line. For Samsung, getting automotive qualification was the top priority to support NXP, the world’s largest automotive MCU vendor that has fully embraced FD-SOI for its MCUs.
Aside from the NXP issue, Jeon emphasized Samsung’s ambition to “target the auto market” as a much bigger business strategy.