“The ecosystem is ready. The focus is now on applications and products.” And with those words, SOI Consortium Executive Director Carlos Mazure opened the annual Silicon Valley SOI Symposium. As promised, the day was packed with presentations about products on FD-SOI – some from big players like NXP and Sony, some from names new to the FD-SOI ecosystem like Audi and Airbus, and some from start-ups just getting into the game.
The event got excellent coverage in EETimes/EDN – including in their editions across the globe in China, Japan, Taiwan, India and more. Samsung, GF Ramp FD-SOI, heralded the headlines.
It was a full day of excellent presentations. In this post, I’ll chronicle the morning presentations. The next post(s) will cover the afternoon session. Note that as of this writing, the ppts are not yet posted on the SOI Consortium website, but many will be. Keep checking back under the Events tab, and look under “past Events”.
As semiwiki noted a few years back, Andes Technology is “…the biggest microprocessor IP company you’ve never heard of.” Based in Taiwan, Mediatek is one of their big customers; they’ve got a strong client base across Asia/Pacific, and are now making inroads into North America. Last year they announced with GF their 32-bit CPU IP cores had been implemented on GF’s 22FDX® FD-SOI technology.
In his symposium keynote, CEO Frankwell Lin said that in the test chip they’re doing with GF and Invecus, they’re seeing a 70% power savings compared with what they’d gotten in 28ULP. Their newest products are the N25 32bit and NX25 64bit RISC-V based cores, and in July they’ll announce a core that runs on Linux.
“With FD-SOI we’re enabling the future of embedded processing,” the always-quotable (and keynote speaker) NXP VP/GM Ron Martino told us. NXP’s i.MX7ULP, i.MX8, i.MX8X and i.MXRT are all FD-SOI based. They all share fundamental building blocks, so NXP can build platforms, scale and re-use IP. “It’s better than any technology I’ve worked on in my 30 years in the industry,” he said.
They’re seeing much higher performance with on-chip flash. And the RT “crossover” processor boasts 3x higher computing performance than today’s competing MCUs. This is going to be critical for edge computing going forward, to which end NXP is working very closely with foundry partner Samsung.
FD-SOI is not just helpful for the logic part of these chips – memory technologies also share in the benefits. They get much higher performance with on-chip flash. Leakage is cut by a factor of ten with biasing techniques, and the enhancements mean that memory can operate at very low voltages.
NXP is increasingly sophisticated with how they use body biasing, applying high-granularity techniques to independent domains in different parts of the chips. Getting sub-0.6 Vmin delivers value at multiple levels: on battery life, on total system cost, and on system enablement. Invest in body biasing if you want to get leadership results, advised Martino.
Edge computing – including machine learning and neural networks for things like image classification – is a big target, he continued. At the last CES they did a proof-of-concept “foodnet” where two appliances talked to each other without having to go to the cloud. In that case it was an i.MX8 in a fridge and an i.MXRT in a microwave, but he explained that the same concept can be applied to a car for driver awareness, where you don’t want to take the extra time for or don’t have a connection to the cloud.
iMX and FD-SOI enable scalable solutions, he concluded.
What’s a metal-bending company doing talking about electrons? asked Audi Project Manager Dr. Andre Blum. And why SOI? Well, for Audi, he said, SOI stands for Solutions, Opportunities and Innovation.
Audi is working on the various levels of autonomous driving, and they want it to be without design limitations. That means being able to hide sensors wherever they’re needed. They’ll create a cocoon around the car for the best driver experience. He showed a fun video Audi’s made to illustrate their concept – it’s the Invisible Man video, which you can check out on YouTube.
But those new architectures can’t up the power budget (think heat): rather they need to cut power drastically while increasing performance. And with FD-SOI, they see an opportunity to do just that, he said, while integrating the sensors.
Audi is one of 25 partners in a heavily funded (>100 million Euros) brand new EU Horizon 2020 program called Ocean12 (lead by Soitec). The launch was only May 1st 2018 (so as of today it doesn’t even have a website yet), and it will run for about 4 years. It is described by ECSEL (a public-private entity that puts together the big EU research projects) as an “opportunity to carry European autonomous driving further with FDSOI technology up to 12nm node”. One to watch!
For Airbus, it’s all about increased connectivity and communications that are trusted and secure, said company expert Olivier Notebaert. Since their chip runs are low, NRE – non-recurring engineering costs – are very important; and they need flexible systems.
SOI has a long history in aerospace – in fact that’s originally where it got its start, since it can handle radiation and is immune to latch-up. Notebaert says that even for Airbus, IoT is their future. The developments they pioneer will be part of it.
Airbus is a partner in the EU Horizon 2020 DAHLIA project – which stands for Deep sub-micron microprocessor for spAce rad-Hard appLIcation Asic. The project is, “…developing a Very High Performance microprocessor System on Chip (SoC) based on STMicroelectonics European 28nm FDSOI technology with multi-core ARM processors for real-time applications, eFPGA for flexibility and key European IPs, enabling faster and cost-efficient development of products for multiple space application domains. The performance is expected to be 20 to 40 times the performance of the existing SoC for space.”
According to another recent presentation, DAHLIA is prototyping an FPGA this year that will be in production in 2019.
For Sony GM Kenichi Nakano, FD-SOI has big potential for low-power products. And he should know. Sony has been an FD-SOI pioneer, using it as the basis for GPS chips that are now in a growing number of cool products, especially watches. They’re getting good feedback from the market and see good opportunities across a diversified global customer base, he said. Their CXD5603, for example, is the lowest power GNSS (GPS) chip worldwide. In mass production since 2015, it is now dominating world wearable markets like trackers — such the popular Amazfit line.
Running through their various FD-SOI based GPS offerings, he noted that the GPS is a pretty simple chip. But now customers are asking for more, like for it to work in the water (where a GPS typically doesn’t). So Sony has partnered with triathalon teams and are seeing good results.
With success, of course, comes greater demands: for greater accuracy, for more precise positioning in motion, for increased height accuracy, for even lower power – and Sony is meeting these demands with FD-SOI, in solutions like the new CXD5602. The CXD5602 product configuration covers audio/video/communications: key factors in IoT. A camera version is releasing this summer, as are main and extension boards. An LTE module will be released at the end of 2018.
And now they’re using those FD-SOI chips in audio applications. You’ll find it in the Xperia™ Ear Duo, he said. The MWC press release noted that Xperia Ear Duo “… is driven by Sony’s ultra-low power consuming “CXD5602” chip and a sophisticated multi-sensor platform, the “Daily Assist” feature will recognize time, location and activities to offer relevant information throughout the day – reminding you what time your next meeting is when you reach the office or narrating the latest news headlines.”
Also in that PR, Hiroshi Ito,Deputy Head of Smart Product Business Group at Sony Mobile Communications, said, “Ear Duo is the first wireless headset to deliver a breakthrough Dual Listening experience – the ability to hear music and notifications simultaneously with sounds from the world around you.” The highly anticipated wireless “open-ear” stereo headset started rolling out to select markets in Spring 2018. There’s a great info page with video here.
So that’s what we heard in the morning. My next post (or posts?) will cover the afternoon. That includes Dan Hutcheson’s excellent talk updating his FD-SOI survey, presentations from Samsung, Globalfoundries and Simgui, plus some from very cool start-ups, and the final panel presentation.
Sony’s 28nm FD-SOI GPS rolling out in the Xiaomi Amazfit smartwatch is “…a big win for Sony” and “…an even bigger win for FD-SOI’s promoters,” said Junko Yoshida of EETimes (see Sony-Inside Huami Watch: Is It Time for FD-SOI?). Then she adds:“Huami’s watch decidedly demonstrates the technology’s claim to ultra-low power consumption.”
Xiaomi is a subsidiary of Huami, which lays claim to being the second largest manufacturer of wearables in the world. So it really is a big win. What’s more, the Amazfit, says Xiaomi, is “…the world’s first smartwatch with a 28 nm GPS sensor”.
Sony has been releasing evolving details of the chip at various conferences over the last few years (including SOI Consortium forums). To get their ISSCC paper, 26.5 A 0.7V 1.5-to-2.3mW GNSS receiver with 2.5-to-3.8dB NF in 28nm FD-SOI (February 2016) from IEEE Xplore – click here.
(Image courtesy xiaomi-mi.com)
FD-SOI is the default choice for digital in ST’s automotive and discrete group (ADG), Marco Monti, EVP of the business unit told EETimes’ Peter Clarke in a recent article (read it here). The next generation of ST’s most advanced microcontrollers (currently on 40nm bulk) will be on 28nm FD-SOI, he said. Monti also gave examples of other FD-SOI automotive chips ST is doing for partners, including chips for WiFi, satellite radio, telematics, entertainment and ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems). “FD-SOI is not just a manufacturing node for us. It’s a whole cluster of technologies for all things in the car,” Monti told Clarke.
From RF-SOI pioneer Peregrine Semi comes a steady stream of new chips and design wins.
Psemi was honored with a 2015 Electronic Products “Product of the Year” award for its UltraCMOS® PE42020 True DC RF switch, the industry’s first and only RF integrated switch to operate from DC (0 Hz) to 8 GHz. (Press release here.)
The #1 take-away message from the recent FD-SOI Symposium in San Jose is that “FD-SOI is the smart path to success”. With presentations echoing that theme by virtually all the major players – including (finally!) ARM – to a packed house, it really was an epic day for the FD-SOI ecosystem. The presentations are now starting to be available on the SOI Consortium website – click here to see them (they’re not all there as of today, though, so keep checking back).
Since there’s so much to cover, we’ll break this into two parts. This is Part 1, focusing on presentations related to some of the exciting products that are hitting the market using 28nm FD-SOI. Part 2 will focus on the terrific presentations related to 22nm FD-SOI. In future posts we’ll get into the details of many of the presentations. But for now, we’ll just hit the highlights.
So back briefly to FD-SOI being smart. (A nice echo to the Soitec FD-SOI wafer manufacturing technology – SmartCutTM – that make it all possible right?) It started with the CEO of Sigma Designs (watch for their first IoT products on FD-SOI coming out soon) quipping, “FD-SOI is the poor man’s FinFET.” To which GlobalFoundries’ VP Kengeri riffed that really, “FD-SOI is the smart man’s FinFET”. And NXP VP Ron Martino, summed it up saying, “FD-SOI is the smart man’s path to success”. Yes!
Samsung now has a strong 28nm FD-SOI tape-out pipeline for 2016, and interest is rising fast, said Kelvin Low, the company’s Sr. Director of Foundry Marketing. His presentation title said it all: “28FDS – Industry’s First Mass-Produced FDSOI Technology for IoT Era, with Single Platform Benefits.” They’ve already done 12 tape-outs, are working on 10 more now for various applications: application processor, networking, STB, game, connectivity,…., and see more coming up fast and for more applications such as MCU, programmable logic, IoT and broader automotive. It is a mature technology, he emphasized, and not a niche technology. The ecosystem is growing, and there’s lots more IP ready. 28nm will be a long-lived node. Here’s the slide that summed up the current production status:
As you see, the production PDK with the RF add-on will be available this summer. Also, don’t miss the presentations by Synopsys (get it here), which has repackaged the key IP from ST for Samsung customers, Leti on back-bias (get it here), Ciena (they were the Nortel’s optical networking group) and ST (it’s chalk-full of great data on FD-SOI for RF and analog).
If you read Ṙon’s terrific posts here on ASN recently, you already know a lot about where he’s coming from. If you missed them, they are absolute must-reads: here’s Part 1 and here’s Part 2. Really – read them as soon as you’re done reading this.
As he noted in his ASN pieces, NXP’s got two important new applications processor lines coming out on 28nm FD-SOI. The latest i.MX 7 series combines ultra-low power (where they’re dynamically leveraging the full range of reverse back biasing – something you can do only with FD-SOI on thin BOX) and performance-on-demand architecture (boosted when and where it’s needed with forward back-biasing). It’s the first general purpose microprocessor family in the industry’s to incorporate both the ARM® Cortex®-A7 and the ARM Cortex-M4 cores (the series includes single and dual A7 core options). The i.MX 8 series targets highly-advanced driver information systems and other multimedia intensive embedded applications. It leverages ARM’s V8-A 64-bit architecture in a 10+ core complex that includes blocks of Cortex-A72s and Cortex-A53s.
In his San Jose presentation, Ron said that FD-SOI is all about smart architecture, integration and differentiating techniques for power efficiency and performance. And the markets for NXP’s i.MX applications processors are all about diversification, in which a significant set of building blocks will be on-chip. The IoT concept requires integration of diverse components, he said, meaning that a different set of attributes will now be leading to success. “28nm FD-SOI offers advantages that allows scaling from small power efficient processors to high performance safety critical processor,” he noted – a key part of the NXP strategy. Why not FinFET? Among other things, it would bump up the cost by 50%. Here are other parts of the comparison he showed:
For NXP, FD-SOI provides the ideal path, leading to extensions of microcontrollers with advanced memory. FD-SOI improves SER* by up to 100x, so it’s an especially good choice when it comes to automotive security. Back-biasing – another big plus – he calls it “critical and compelling”. The icing on the cake? “There’s so much we can do with analog and memory,” he said. “Our engineers are so excited!”
You know how using mapping apps on your smartphone kills your battery? Well now there’s hope. Sony’s getting some super impressive results with their new GPS using 28nm FD-SOI technology. These GPS are operated at 0.6V, and cut power to 10x (!) less than what it was in the previous generation (which was already boasting the industry’s lowest power consumption when it was announced back in 2013).
In San Jose, Sony Senior Manager Kenichi Nakano presented, “Low Power GPS design with RF circuit by the FDSOI 28nm”, proclaiming with a smile, “I love FD-SOI, too!” All the tests are good and the chip is production ready, he said. In fact, they’ve been shipping samples since March.
As of this writing, his presentation is not yet posted. But til it is, if you’re interested in the background of this chip, you can check out the presentation he gave in Tokyo in 2015 here.
SERDES (Serializer/Deserializer) IP is central to many modern SOC designs, providing a high-speed interface for a broad range of applications from storage to display. It’s also used in high-speed data communications, where it’s had a bad rep for pulling a huge amount of power in data centers. But Analog Bits has been revolutionizing SERDES IP by drastically cutting the power. Now, with a port to 28nm FD-SOI, they’re claiming the industry’s lowest power.
In his presentation, “A Case Study of Half Power SERDES in FDSOI”, EVP Mahesh Tirupattur described FD-SOI as a new canvas for chip design engineers. The company designs parts for multiple markets and multiple protocols. When they got a request to port from bulk to 28nm FD-SOI, they did it in record time of just a few months, getting power down to 1/3 with no extra mask steps. Plus, they found designing in FD-SOI to be cheaper and easier than FinFET, which of course implies a faster time to market. “The fabs were very helpful,” he said. “I’m pleased and honored to be part of this ecosystem.”
Listening to a presentation by Stanford professor Boris Murmann gets you a stunning 30,000 foot view of the industry through an amazing analog lens. He’s lead numerous explorations into the far reaches of analog and RF in FD-SOI, and concludes that the technology offers significant benefits toward addressing the needs of: ultra low-power “fog” computing for IoT (it’s the next big thing – see a good Forbes article on it here); densely integrated, low-power analog interfaces; universal radios; and ultra high-speed ADC. Get his symposium presentation, “Mixed-Signal Design Innovations in FD-SOI Technology” here.
So, it was a great day in San Jose for 28nm FD-SOI. Next in part 2, we’ll look at why it was also an epic day for 22nm FD-SOI. Be sure to keep checking back at the SOI Consortium website, as more presentations will become available in the days to come.
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*SER = Soft Error Rates – soft errors occur when alpha or neutron particles hit memory cells and change their state, giving an incorrect read. These particles can either come from cosmic rays, or when radioactive atoms are released into the chips as materials decay.
Don’t forget to get your paper submitted to the top conference with a major focus on the SOI ecosystem: the IEEE S3S (SOI/3D/SubVt). The Call For Papers (CFP) deadline is April 15, 2016. As we noted for you in ASN back in December, the theme of the conference, which will take place October 10th – 13th in San Francisco, is “Energy Efficient Technology for the Internet of Things”.
As of this writing, the following keynote speakers have been confirmed:
Invited speakers include:
As always, there will be a Best Paper Award and a Best Student Paper Award. But students take note: the recipient of the Best Student Paper will also receive $1000 from Qualcomm.
Papers related to technology, devices, circuits and applications (more details here) in the following areas are requested :
For current information on the conference visit the S3S website at: http://s3sconference.org/
LinkedIn users will also want to join the conference group at IEEE SOI-3D-Subthreshold Microelectronics Technology (S3S) Unified Conference.
For this 3-part series, ASN spoke with Kelvin Low, senior director of marketing for Samsung Foundry and Axel Fischer, director of Samsung System LSI business in Europe about the company’s FD-SOI offering. Here in part 2, we’ll talk about design. (In part 1, we talked about Samsung’s technology readiness. In part 3, we’ll talk about the ecosystem.)
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ASN: Let’s start by talking about value. What do you see as the key advantages of 28nm FD-SOI?
Kelvin Low: FD-SOI is wide-ranging. What I mean by this is for the designers, there are many design knobs available that you can use to achieve either high performance or ultra low power. That’s a an extremely valuable and important proposition. The wide dynamic performance-power range is achieved with FD-SOI’s body biasing ability. Though bulk technologies allow body biasing, it has a comparatively much narrower range.
Another key benefit is the super analog gain and properties of FD-SOI. I think moving forward, we’ll probably start to see more customers that are analog-centric. Later on, we’ll see this as one of the key value propositions of FD-SOI. Today, there’s still a lot of digital customers that we’re engaged with right now. The analog customers are still not yet aggressively migrating to [[more advanced]] technology nodes, but when they come, this will be an important distinction in FD-SOI vs. bulk.
Another important distinction not related to power-performance-area is the robustness of the reliability. This is a well-proven fact that FD-SOI is much more robust for soft-error immunity as compare to bulk. So anything that needs radiation protection (for example, military, aerospace – but those are not really the high-volumes), as well as automotive products, you’ll see value of better SER immunity as compared to bulk. Not just memory SER but logic SER. There are available design techniques to overcome / account for that. For example, if you design to overcome SER, you incur overhead in area for example. With FD-SOI, this is intrinsic, so you don’t need design tricks to suppress it.
ASN: When should designers consider using 28nm FD-SOI as opposed moving to 14nm FinFET or choosing another 28nm technology?
KL: By virtue of one being 28 and the other being 14, if you do need a lot of logic feature integration, or die-size reduction, 14nm will obviously become more necessary. If you just are looking for power savings, both 14nm FinFET and 28nm FD-SOI are fully depleted in nature, so both are able to operate with a lower power supply. So those are similarities. 14nm FinFET does provide higher performance compared to 28nm by virtue of how the process is constructed. Lastly, cost, which is related to the number of double-patterning layers – at 28nm, avoiding all the expensive double-patterning layers and 14nm having double-patterning being necessary for all the area scaling – that presents itself as a real difference. The end-product cost can also determine the choice of the technology selection.
Axel Fischer: The end-product cost, plus as well the investments from the customer side: the customer has to make a certain investment to develop the chip in terms of overall cost. If you look at photomask payment, NRE* and so on – this is weighting strongly, more and more as you go forward with advanced node technologies. There’s a set of customers that are feeling very comfortable to stay on the 28nm node.
KL: There are several 28nm flavors. There’s Poly-SiON, there’s HKMG, and there’s HKMG-FD-SOI. In terms of performance, there’s really a very clear distinction. In terms of power, you see a more radical power reduction with FD-SOI. In chip area scaling, I’d say roughly the same between HKMG and FD-SOI. This is dictated not so much by the transistor but by the overall design rules of the technology. So, 14nm is the higher cost point. 28nm is a much lower cost point, so overall a given budget that a customer has can determine whether 14nm is usable or otherwise. We have to sit down with the customer and really understand their needs. It’s not just trying to push one over the other solution. Based on their needs, we’ll make the proper recommendations.
ASN: Can designers get started today?
KL: We are moving FD-SOI discussions with customers to the next phase, which is to emphasize the design ecosystem readiness. So what we’ve been working on, and we really appreciate ST Micro’s support here, is to kick-start market adoption. We have access to ST Micro’s foundation library, and some of their foundation and basic IPs. Here, Samsung is distributing and supporting customers directly. They need to only work with us, and not with ST Micro. So they have access to the IP through us. We also provide design support, and we have additional IPs coming in to serve the customers from the traditional IP providers.
Many designers are new to body biasing. Fortunately, there are a couple of design partners that can help in this area. Synapse being one of them; Verisilicon another. Already, they have put in resources and plans and additional solutions to catalyze this market. In short, the PDK is available today, and the PDK supporting multi tools – Synopsys, Cadence and Mentor – are all available for download today. Libraries are also all available for download.
There’s nothing impeding designers from starting projects now. This is why we believe that 28FDSOI is the right node, because we are enabling the market to start projects today. If we start something else down the road, like a 14nm FD-SOI, for example, or something in between, the market will just say, hey, we like your transistor, we like your slides, but I have nothing to start my project on. So that is bad, because then it becomes a vicious cycle. We believe we have to enable 28nm designs now. Enable customers to bring actual products to the market. Eventually from there you can evolve 28 to something else.
ASN: Let’s talk some more about design considerations and body biasing, how it’s used and when.
KL: Both 14nm FinFET and 28nm FD-SOI are fully depleted. One unique technology value of fully-depleted architecture is the ability to operate the device at lower power supply. So power is the product of CV²/frequency. If you can operate this chip at lower power supply, you get significant dynamic power savings. FinFET does not have a body effect, so you cannot implement body biasing – it’s just not possible.
FD-SOI, on the other hand, has this extra knob – body biasing – that you can use. With reverse body bias (RBB), you can get much lower leakage power. If you want more performance, you can activate the FBB to get the necessary speed. Again, this is not possible with FinFET. So that will be one distinction. It depends on how you’re using your chip. It all depends on the system side, or even at the architecture side, how is it being considered already. If you’re already very comfortable using body biasing, then going to FinFET is a problem, because you’ve lost a knob. Some would rather not lose this knob because they see it as a huge advantage. That doesn’t mean you can’t design around it, it’s just different.
There are already users of body biasing for bulk. For customers that already use body biasing, this is nothing new. They’re pleased to now have the wider range, as opposed to the more narrow range for bulk.
AF: And probably going to FinFET is more disruptive for them. With FinFET, you have double-patterning considerations, etc. More capacitance to deal with.
ASN: Porting – does FD-SOI change the amount of time you have to budget for your port?
KL: If a customer already has products at 28nm, and they’re now planning the next product that has higher speed or better power consumption – they’re considering FinFET as one option, and now maybe the other option available is 28nm FD-SOI. The design learnings of going to FinFET are much more. So the port time will be longer than going to 28nm FD-SOI. We see customers hugely attracted because of this fact. Now they’re trying to make a choice. If it’s just a time-to-market constraint, sometimes FinFET doesn’t allow you to achieve that. If you have to tape out production in six months, you may have to use FD-SOI.
AF: Another key point for customers deciding to work with 28FDSOI is the fact that Samsung Foundry has joined the club. A few customers really hesitated on making the move to 28nm FD-SOI ST Micro is a very really advanced company, doing its own research and development, but the fact that the production capability was very limited has people shying away. Besides the technology, the presence and the engagement of Samsung is giving another boost to the acceptance.
KL: Yes, we’re recognized as a credible, high-volume manufacturing partner. That helps a lot.
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*NRE = non-recurring engineering. In a fabless scenario, there are NRE for IP and design (engineering costs, up-front and royalty-based IP costs), NRE for masks and fabrication (mask costs, wafer prototype lots, tools costs, probe cards, loadboards and other one-time capital expenditures), and NRE for qualifications (ESD, latch-up and other industry-specific qualifications, as in automotives).
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This is the second installment in ASN’s 3-part interview with Samsung on their 28nm FD-SOI foundry offering. If you missed the other parts, you can still read part 1 about technology readiness (click here), and part 3 on the ecosystem (click here).
In an EETimes interview, GlobalFoundries CEO Sanjay Jha said RF-SOI and FD-SOI were “…the right technologies at the right time,” (read the full piece here). He offered the new iPhone 6s as a proofpoint for the value of RF-SOI. For the company’s 22nm FD-SOI, he said production tape-out will be “…in the second half of 2016”. He sees big opps for FD-SOI with the fabless community in China, noting its suitability for mass market smartphones, automotive, power-critical IoT and analog devices.