Chip Partners ARM And TSMC Make 7nm FinFET IP Available For Next Generation SoCs

ARM and TSMC have become quite the duo over the years, combining the latter's cutting-edge process technologies with the former's processor IP. It is a partnership that has been working, hence why the two committed earlier this year to collaborating on a marketable 7nm FinFET chip. The fruits of their efforts have paid off—ARM announced today that it has licensed its Artisan physical IP platform for TSMC's 7nm FinFET process technology to Xilinx, the fabless semiconductor company known for inventing the field programmable gate array (FPGA).

TSMC Wafer

Xilinx isn't a new customer by any means. It has partnered with ARM for four process technology generations and has worked with both companies to advance chip design. ARM credits Xilinx for playing a critical role in helping developers drive the market towards quick and cost effective solutions in IoT, embedded vision, cloud computing, and other sectors using FPGAs. Now Xilinx will tap ARM and TSMC for its next generation FPGAs, SoCs, and 3D ICs.

Despite the collaboration, getting to this point wasn't easy, as there are various challenges in getting down to a 7nm process node.

Arm Cell Layout
Source: ARM

"The unique characteristics of the 7nm FinFET process technology meant that we had to invent a new memory development methodology, thus the introduction of memory compilers utilizing a cell based layout. This new memory architecture provides for more consistent patterns in the memory layout, thereby minimizing variation," ARM explained in a blog post.

Of course, ARM and TSMC didn't win the race to 7nm. That honor belongs to IBM, which produced a 7nm test chip last year using extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV). However, it's not being mass produced, so there's still a bit of an arms race going on here. GlobalFoundries belongs in the discussion too, though it recently announced that it is targeting 2018 to begin production.

For now, it appears as though ARM and TSMC have jumped out ahead, in terms of commercialization. In addition to finding a customer in Xilinx, ARM is putting the word out that its physical IP platform for TSMC's 7nm FinFET node is available now for evaluation and licensing.