TSMC Surprises With New Chip Technology For Datacenter Customers Like AMD

Ramish Zafar
Image courtesy: TSMC

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The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) has released a new semiconductor manufacturing technology that is part of its N5 process technology family which features transistors as small as 5-nanometers (nm) for some of their dimensions. The N4X process, released today, will cater only to high performance computing (HPC) products, which are expected by the financial sector to play an important role in TSMC's future revenue growth.

It offers a 15% performance boost over TSMC's N5 technology, commonly referred to as the 5nm process node. Additionally, the fab also claims that the new technology offers a 4% performance boost over the N4P manufacturing process at 1.2 volts (V) drive voltage, and keeping in mind the high power HPC power requirements, it can also increase the drive voltage to 1.4V.

TSMC's N4X Process Technology Is The Company's First Process Designed Solely For High Performance Computing

The HPC processors are mostly used by a few companies to design and function on large scale data centers. Demand for these products boomed in the aftermath of the ongoing pandemic which saw global populations turn indoors for their work and entertainment needs, alongside an uptick in computational requirements for vaccine and other research.

TSMC's director of high performance computing development Dr. Yujun Li explained the details about her company's latest manufacturing technology in a blog post. She outlined that the N4X process is the first of its kind that is dedicated solely for high performance computing, with the moniker 'X' intended to signify this. The customized process is the latest from TSMC, which has now started to customize its technologies for specific use cases. It follows the fab's N5A and N6RF nodes released earlier this year, for automotive and cellular products, respectively.

TSMC's diagram showing N6RF's frequency and conductance compared to 16nm as shared by its director for RF and Analog Business, Dr. Jie Jay Sun earlier this year. Image: TSMC 2021 Online Technology Symposium/Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company

According to Dr. Li, the following are the N4X's key performance characteristics:

  • Up to 15% performance boost over N5 (at supply voltage of 1.2V) – transistor performance as a function of voltage is optimized, with a slight tradeoff in leakage current
  • Higher overdrive voltages beyond 1.2V to unlock additional performance
  • Lower resistance and parasitic capacitance of targeted metal layers - back-end-of-line metal layer optimization greatly affects HPC products, due to larger die sizes, higher clock frequencies, and higher operating voltages
  • Super-high-density metal-insulator-metal capacitor for most effective and reliable power delivery - Depending on product design, this performance element can minimize supply voltage droop under high current loading and increase product performance by 2~3%.

Since it's a part of the N5 process technology families, the N4X will enter production in a couple of years. The fab has outlined that risk production for the new node will begin in the first half of 2023, signifying the company's growing comfort with high performance nodes.

Growth in HPC is expected to significantly contribute to TSMC's future revenues. Investment bank JPMorgan believes that the segment is part of four factors that spell out a strong business proposition for the Taiwanese chipmaker. According to a report that surfaced in September this year, JPMorgan is under the impression that the demand for HPC products is growing faster than expected, due to which they will form a greater portion of TSMC's revenue pie moving forward.

The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) will stand at 30% for the five years between 2020 and 2025 by the end of which its revenue will equal $50 billion believes the bank. Additionally, the report also outlined that HPC will outpace smartphones as the largest contributor to TSMC's revenue in the same year that the N4X will enter risk production.

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