10-nm process technology coming soon?
Update Time: 2019-12-19 00:00:12
The electronic engineering community was abuzz this past weekend with reports that Intel, Samsung, and Toshiba were spearheading a new process technology consortium aimed at producing 10-nm-process ICs in the next five years.
At the time of writing, the companies had not confirmed the reports that seem to have started with a Nikkei Daily article and a post from Reuters.
According to these published reports, Intel, Samsung, and Toshiba would invite perhaps ten additional companies to join in the research consortium. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry was also said to be investing funds into the project. Intel would use the resulting 10-nm process for improving it microprocessors, while Samsung and Toshiba would apply the advances to their NAND Flash businesses.
Are the reports accurate?
Continuing to improve process technology is clearly important to the electronics industry, so on the one hand, the report does seem credible.
For example, on October 19, Intel announced that it would invest $6 billion to $8 billion in new U.S.-based manufacturing facilities.
"Intel makes approximately 10 billion transistors per second. Our factories produce the most advanced computer technology in the world and these investments will create capacity for innovation we haven’t yet imagined,” said Brian Krzanich, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Manufacturing and Supply Chain, in the company's official statement.
For its part, Samsung has recently introduced new 64-Gbit, three-bit-per-cell NAND Flash products manufactured on a 20-nm process. In the company's product announcement, it emphasized its process innovations.
Given the focus that Intel and Samsung seem to be putting on process technology, a consortium is at least consistent with two of the named companies' apparent focus.
But What About IMFT?
What seems strange about the reports of an Intel, Samsung, and Toshiba arrangement — especially one that includes technology for NAND Flash — is that it does not immediately include Micron, Intel's longtime, joint venture partner at the NAND Flash foundry, IM Flash Technologies (IMFT).
Micron and Intel's partnership has produced many Flash manufacturing innovations. And IMFT has, arguably, outpaced Samsung and Toshiba in process shrinks.
What's more, Micron has indicated to shareholders and analysts that it will be increasing its investment in NAND Flash process technology to perhaps $3 billion in fiscal 2011, which should benefit Intel through the IMFT relationship.
Consortium or not, 10 nm is a great goal
Regardless of whether these reports are true, aiming for 10nm processes is absolutely something that semiconductor makers should do. So if Intel, Samsung, and Toshiba have not already started talking about a consortium, they might want to make a couple of calls.