TSMC to unveil 20nm chips with FinFET transistors at IEDM

TSMC says research continues on FinFETs, but planar transistors will still be used at 20nm

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) may be showing off its vision for the future of chip manufacturing technologies beyond 20 nanometers when it unveils its latest research into FinFET transistors at a chip industry event later this year.

Many existing products are built with planar transistors -- efficient, low-cost transistors that were invented in 1959. But many chip makers are starting to look at other transistor designs that may be easier to shrink beyond the 20nm size. TSMC appears to be settling on FinFETs because their fish-fin design reduces the size of working transistors.

The company will show off high-performance 22nm and 20nm technology that features FinFET transistors at IEEE's International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM), which runs 6 to 8 December in San Francisco.

The nanometer measurement is a guide to the size of the transistors and other parts that are etched onto the chips. The more transistors, and the closer they are together, the faster the chip can perform tasks.

Chip makers have been pushing the envelope with transistor size in recent years to keep up with users who demand ever-smaller devices with more functions, such as smartphones with cameras, touchscreens and other technology on board.

To make such gadgets, chip makers have been forced to shrink their chips while making them more powerful at the same time. All this has to be done for a reasonable price, which is where chip manufacturers such as TSMC come in with advanced manufacturing processes and design tools.

FinFET transistors are one of a number of kinds of transistor that chip makers are looking at for the future. TSMC has no current plans to use FinFET transistors in actual production at 20nm, according to a company representative. The chip giant will continue to use bulk silicon with planar transistors.

Other companies are also looking at using FinFETs. A research team that includes IBM, GlobalFoundries, NEC and Toshiba showed off an SRAM (static random access memory) cell made using FinFET transistors and 22nm production technology at the 2010 Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits in June. TSMC's latest FinFET transistors were also used in an SRAM cell.

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Dan Nystedt

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