TSMC, ARM validate big.LITTLE on FinFET silicon

October 1, 2014 // 9:11 a.m.

Tags: #3d-transistor #biglittle #cortex-a53 #cortex-a57 #finfet #semiconductor #silicon #soc #system-on-chip #tri-gate-transistor

Companies: #arm #taiwan-semiconductor #tsmc

Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and ARM have jointly announced the launch of a 16nm FinFET-based design boasting a 64-bit implementation of ARM's big.LITTLE technology, ahead of TSMC's 16FF+ roll-out later this year.

Intel was first to market with commercial three-dimensional transistor layouts, unveiled in 2011 as Tri-Gate Transistors. Since then, its competitors in the semiconductor market have been working hard to match it with a variant dubbed FinFET (Fin-based Field Effect Transistors), with TSMC announcing a 16nm FinFET process in 2013 - 2nm larger, it must be noted, than Intel or joint competitor GlobalFoundries.

Now, TSMC has evidence that the latest iteration of its three-dimensional 16nm process, dubbed 16nm FinFET Plus (16FF+), works: test silicon designed in cooperation with ARM. The chip is based around ARM's latest 64-bit ARMv8 architecture, and sees Cortex-A57 cores running at 2.3GHz and Cortex-A53 cores drawing as little as 75mW under common workloads combined on a single chip in ARM's big.LITTLE design. The result compared to the company's previous 16FF process: an 11 per cent performance boost at the same power draw for the Cortex-A57 cores and a 35 per cent power reduction for the Cortex-A53 cores.

'This silicon proof point with ARM Cortex-A57 and Cortex-A53 processors demonstrates the additional benefits in performance and power efficiency that 16nm FinFET technology delivers to big.LITTLE implementations,' boasted Pete Hutton, president of product groups at Cambridge-based ARM, of the announcement. 'The joint effort of ARM, TSMC, and TSMC’s OIP design ecosystem partners will transform end-user experiences across the next generation of consumer devices and enterprise infrastructure.'

'Our long-term collaboration with ARM continues to push advanced technologies that enable market-leading SoCs for mobile, server, and enterprise infrastructure applications worldwide,' added Dr. Cliff Hou, vice president of research and development at TSMC. 'TSMC is proud to be the first foundry to validate the ARM big.LITTLE implementation on FinFET, and this achievement demonstrates in silicon the real-world capabilities of next-generation ARMv8 processors on TSMC’s advanced FinFET technology.'

There is, of course, a catch: while TSMC showed off the test silicon at its OIP Ecosystem Forum event in San Jose last night, the technology won't roll out to its customers for mass production use until the fourth quarter of the year. Thus far, no ARM licensees have publicly indicated that they will be using TSMC's 16FF+ process, more details of which are available on the official website, for future products.
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