Thursday, 26 February 2015

Intel's Advancements Raising Bar On Chip Manufacturing Processes

| Thursday, February 26, 2015 | | | | |

The industry hasn’t yet had enough of the 20nm Snapdragon 810 and there are already talks of processors getting the 14nm treatment. But for now this process is concentrated for developing the SOC’s for the laptops and desktop devices. Yet, such advancements are creating a lot of interest all around. Intel is planning to bring presentations on several internal advancements and plans at this years International Solid-State Circuits Conference(ISSCC). These presentations would circle around the theme of ‘Silicon Systems - Small Chips For Big Data’. The topics to be covered are 14nm chip features, developments in the previous 22nm processes and future plans to achieve the 10nm and even 7nm milestone.

One of those intriguing features imparted for 14nm is its data transfer capabilities. Intel will be displaying a 14nm CMOS transmitter capable of 40Gb/s with methods including Non-Return Zero (NRZ) and Pulse Amplitude Modulation (PAM) having 4 levels.

Intel is also set to showcase a complete serial link in 14nm Tri-Gate CMOS, which is the first of its kind. It has also developed a semiconductor which consumes 59mW power within an area of 0.065mm^2 for providing 10Gb/s link.

And the most exciting feature concerning the 14nm developments is on the memory front. Intel gives out a 0.6V operated 84Mb SRAM design running at 1.5GHz. It uses the smallest SRAM bitcell of 0.05um^2.

Intel has delayed its 14nm Broadwell chips for few months claiming it to be a manufacturing and testing issue. To this issue, M. Bohr, Intel executive said that Intel underestimated the learning rate as this 14nm technology has brought many masks which requires lots of experiments in fabrication. Intel will address this issue in detail in the upcoming ISSCC.

One of the chip for 22nm process is integrated with an adaptive and resilient domino register file. This chip is capable of adapting to timing synchronizations as well as detecting errors for recovery. This will consider the external parameters like die variation, voltage droop, temperature and aging. Imparting these features has enabled it to perform 21 percent faster and 67% more power efficient.

Another chip on 22nm process, showcases the 22nm graphics execution core enabled with autonomous dynamic voltage and frequency scaling (DVFS). This has used a LDO (Low Dropout Regulator) and a Switched Capacitor Voltage Regulator (SCVR) which will cover the low voltage and high voltage regulation enabling the chip to manage the voltage drop resulting in savings in power consumption. To explain in simpler terms, dynamic voltage scaling is a power management technique in computer architecture, where the voltage provided to a component is stepped up or down depending on circumstances viz to save power or to increase the computer performance.

Intel is confident about the schedule for its 10nm based chips. It has claimed that the pilot for 10nm process manufacturing line is running 50 percent faster than that of 14nm chips. These 10nm chips are speculated to be available for the consumers by 2017. On switching from 10nm to a challenging yet intriguing 7nm process, experts speculate that the processes have to be switched to other materials of III-V semiconductors like Indium-Gallium-Arsenide (InGaAs) rather than Silicon. Intel is yet to comment on the same. Along with these basic challenges, Intel is also set to address the issues on integration methodology related to 2.5D having separated dies on same baseboard and 3D which has a stacked die concept.

For now the chips manufactured using these processes would only relate to SOCs on laptops and desktops. But all these process advancements can be said to have positive effects on the smartphone and wearable devices industry. Sooner or later when such processes are used for mobile devices, users will have gadgets which will be more power efficient and yet running high on performance parameters like never before.

Guest Post by Ronak Totla

Ronak is an Electronics and Telecommunication Engineer and has worked on Embedded Systems and Robotics. He likes to keep himself updated with the latest technology loves to travel in his free time.
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