On The Move


Process for mobile

Market fragmentation happens when tastes change or when a market segment becomes dominant and provides reasonable ROI. Fragmentation is also a sign of market maturity and need in more specialized offering and a way to differentiate vs competition. Some companies ‘invent’ new category on purpose to specialize and become a leader in a segment of the market.

Looking at the semiconductor high level market categories we can include ASIC (targeting certain application or customer), ASSP (targeting application but not a customer) and FPGA (can serve many applications). FPGAs were traditionally generic products that can be used in many applications but more and more we can see that FPGAs are targeting certain market segments that require specific attributes such as higher performance, lower power or specific design resources. As the FPGA market matures, fragmentation allows FPGA vendors to better serve the need of customers which have a specific application in mind or consider group of attributes important. Here’s an example of design platforms targeting certain applications or design attributes from Xilinx.

Similarly to the FPGA’ traditional approach, semiconductor foundries tend to use a broad market approach to slice the semiconductor market by technology needs: High/Generic performance and Low power. Semiconductor vendors selecting the High performance process variant typically develop performance-driven devices such as CPUs, GPUs, Chipsets, FPGAs, video game console and high end consumer applications. Other semiconductor vendors select the Low power process variant and target consumer and mobile applications as well as wireless communications. Over the past few years the lines blur as low power became a requirement in many applications (not only battery operated) and on the other hand some of the ICs targeting mobile markets require high performance.

TSMC acknowledged this trend and introduced a process variant that addresses the mobile computing electronics high performance and low power needs. Here’s a diagram from TSMC 28nm process technology brochure listing the transition in the past years:

The 28nm HPM (High Performance Mobile) derivative is touted as the process optimized for ICs used in smartphones and tablets.

OK, what does it mean optimized for smartphones and tablets?

Smartphones and tablets are battery operated and overall power consumption is extremely important, so the natural choice will be to use the lowest leakage process possible to do that as these devices are in standby most of the time. However we know that lower leakage comes at the expense of reduced performance. Mobile computing platforms are required to offer more performance to support the increased air links rates, increased camera and display resolution needs, faster storage and off-chip interfaces. All of these will require faster multi-core processors capable of doing all that concurrently, supporting 3D image capture, processing, 3D displays, 4G data traffic and high throughput storage access. TSMC’s 28HPM allows these processors to run at clock speeds greater than 1.8 GHz at 440mW. The process uses 0.9V core voltage reducing dynamic power (not only leakage) compared to other Low Power process derivatives and expected to be in production towards end of 2011.

GlobalFoundries have more traditional approach in 28nm with HP, HPP and SLP flavors catering to the high performance, ultra high performance and super low power needs. For mobile applications, GlobalFoundries’ offers 28HPP for higher performance applications requiring > 2GHz and the 28SLP targeting lower power and performance applications.
You can read more interesting facts about the 28nm options in The Eyes Have It blog The 28nm HP Sauce.

The diagram below shows target appliations that can be served by GlobalFoundries process nodes. The diagram is published at (http://hothardware.com/cs/forums/t/47412.aspx) and 28HPP is missing as it was introduced later:

GlobalFoundries online brochure can be found here with more information.

Regardless of which approach foundries take to service the mobile electronics market, it is clear that ICs targeting mobile electronics is the market foundries want to capture. Foundries make efforts to attract these designs by offering them the right mix of performance, low power and low cost.

An important factor in the semiconductor vendor’ decision which process to choose is meeting time to market where IP vendors play a critical role enabling designers to use reliable source for their next generation SoC. With increased complexity and number of interfaces needed in next generation mobile SoCs the success of a semiconductor company is dependent on selecting a trusted IP vendor. Partnering with a trusted IP vendor to provide a variety of interfaces (yes, including MIPI protocols) assists in lowering risk and helping to meet market window and being ahead of competition.

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