Where Does 14nm FinFET Go From Here? (Q&A with ARM)

You may have been reading a lot lately about the advantages of 14nm FinFET, as it relates to computing at the mobile level. This has been a key priority for Samsung Foundry, because it will allow us to manufacture chips that provide unprecedented levels of performance – while consuming significantly less power which is now a key priority for cloud and big data computing as well as a requirement for extended battery life in mobile devices.

I had the opportunity to speak with Ron Moore, who works closely with Samsung in our pursuit of advanced process technologies at ARM, one of our closest foundry partners. Take a look at what Ron had to say about the value of 14nm FinFET and what it’s like working with Samsung Foundry.

Q&A with Ron Moore, Director of Strategic Accounts Marketing, ARM’s Physical IP Division 

1.       What is your role at ARM?  
My team is responsible for working with ARM’s foundry partners to identify technology collaborations, jointly promote the resulting proof-points, and support lead customer adoption of advanced process technologies.

2.       From ARM’s perspective, what are the key advantages of 14nm FinFET technology, and how will this process technology help improve end-devices and enhance the end-user experience? 
Power efficiency is an essential element of all ARM technology-based SoCs.  Samsung’s 14nm FinFET technology provides the performance scaling expected from each new process generation, plus it allows designers to use lower nominal operating voltages.  The mobile device users/consumers will see the improved performance during their user experience in activities such as web browsing or game play with a noticeable extension of battery life.

3.       What does 14nm FinFET allow ARM to do in design innovation that wasn’t possible with previous generations? 
ARM partners design their SoCs with dynamic voltage and frequency scaling (DVFS) to achieve peak performance when needed and power efficiency for lower workload tasks.  The lower nominal operating voltage of 14nm FinFET expands the voltage ranges in both underdrive and overdrive conditions.  In an ARM® big.LITTLE™ processing system, we can achieve higher performance on the top end of the range as well as higher efficiency in the middle and lower operating ranges.

4.       For ARM, what are the biggest challenges with using 14nm FinFET? 
In today’s high-performance, low-power SoCs, designers are using automated EDA flows to implement a wide range of low-power techniques such as clock gating, power gating, multi-Vt, multi-VDD and adaptive scaling in the form of dynamic voltage and frequency scaling (DVFS) or adaptive voltage scaling (AVS).  As we look to deploy ARM technology on 14nm FinFET, we need to ensure that we can achieve power efficiency with these techniques or new alterative methodologies.  At the same time, we are keenly aware of time-to-market pressures that create the need for accelerated core-hardening of ARM processors.

5.       How does the collaborative model among Samsung, ARM and the EDA players (Cadence, Mentor and Synopsys) help alleviate some of these difficulties facing designers with this advanced technology node? 
The collaboration model established by Samsung, ARM, and our EDA partners allows for concurrent development of process technology, processor technology, and design methods / tools.  The engineering iterations enabled by early collaboration and silicon proof-points such as the ARM Cortex®-A7 processor implementation on Samsung 14nm FinFET allows ARM to gain understanding of the design challenges and find candidate solutions for use by our mutual customers.  I would like to add that ARM appreciates the support Samsung provides during these early collaborations.

6.       What does the future look like for industry collaboration in the foundry ecosystem?
The design challenges will continue to intensify as we push toward smaller geometries, new transistor structures, materials, and lithography.  The R&D investment to bring these technologies to the industry will continue to grow as well.  We anticipate an increase in collaboration across the industry to speed the development and deployment of cost-effective semiconductor manufacturing.

Many thanks to Ron for taking the time to provide us with this unique and informative perspective. We have an exciting road ahead of us, and we’re looking forward to the innovations that will continue to come out of the Samsung-ARM partnership. 

We work with many partners in the foundry ecosystem. Who else would you be interested in hearing from? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.