TSMC’s 5nm chip enhancements steer AI driving, 5G

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Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is pressing ahead with more improvements to its industry-leading 5-nanometer process technology, including the introduction of its N5A enhancement for automotive application processors designed for AI-enabled driver assistance and N6RF for 5G smartphone chips.

TSMC is billing N5A as a way to bring technology used in supercomputers to vehicles and smartphones. Set for availability in the third quarter of 2022, the new design “packs the performance, power efficiency, and logic density” of the foundry’s industry-first 5nm N5 process, the company said in a statement.

The new process went into volume production last year. TSMC said this week that it has seen quicker defect density improvements with its 5nm process than it had with the preceding 7nm generation.

The N5A enhancement meets automotive safety and quality standards for packaged integrated circuits (ICs) such as the AEC-Q100 Grade 2 stress test, TSMC said. N5A-based ICs are expected to appear in driver assistance applications, digitized cockpit systems, and other applications.

TSMC on Wednesday announced its roadmap for enhanced and specialized 5nm process technologies at its 2021 Technology Symposium, held virtually for the second year in a row. The Hsinchu, Taiwan-based semiconductor giant said N4, the next enhancement to its first-generation N5 5nm process, is set for risk production in the third quarter of this year. The next stage after N4 is N3, which is currently testing and is projected for volume production in the second half of 2022. The N3 process is expected to deliver either a 15% speed gain or a 30% reduction in power consumption compared with N5 and will also provide up to a 70% logic density gain.

Advanced packaging stacks more memory on-chip

In addition to new specialty chip designs, TSMC highlighted its 3DFabric advanced packaging and chip-stacking technologies, such as InFO_B, which supports DRAM stacking on an integrated mobile processor package for better performance and power efficiency. The company said it will offer InFO_B later this year, as well as INFO_oS and CoWoS packaging solutions with integrated high-bandwidth memory for high-performance computing (HPC).

The pure-play foundry said these packaging technologies and specialty processes like N5A and N6RF — a newly announced process that translates the benefits of N6 logic to 5G radio frequency (RF) and WiFi 6/6e solutions — are instrumental to the continuing digitization and AI-enhancement of more parts of our daily lives. The company’s expansive plans come despite growing concerns about global chip shortages.

“Digitalization is transforming society faster than ever as people use technology to overcome the barriers created by the global pandemic to connect, collaborate, and solve problems,” TSMC CEO Dr. C.C. Wei said in a statement. “This digital transformation has opened up a new world full of opportunities for the semiconductor industry.”


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