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Analysis: where is 28-nm process technology for GPUs?

A short analysis revealing the dates for release of graphic cards made by 28nm logic

Two biggest manufacturers, specializing in production of graphic solutions — AMD and NVIDIA — place the fabrication of end-products in the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which I believe is cold news.

In the last year TSMC has mastered the production of 40nm logic. Thank to it, AMD has released its 5700 and 5800 graphic cards, and later NVIDIA has introduced the world to its graphic cards on Fermi architecture. There were some difficulties with mentioned cards since relatively small percent of valid 40nm chips was produced. As a result, the refinement of production line took almost half of year.

In the beginning of the year there was a statement from TSMC management about industry modernization in order to develop 28nm logic technology.

The modernization was planed to take two steps. First step was to start construction of production line for 28 LP process technology. This technology was implied to bring 28nm products, however, SiON/Poly class materials, that were inherited from 40nm, will be used as the insulator.

From TSMC words, construction of production line for 28nm process technology should have started in June 2010 with the actual launch in following four months. That is, we should have seen TSMC report about successful launch of 28nm logic in beginning of September.

The second stage modernization should have allowed to see the first 28HPL products in December 2010. This time the 28nm process will include the foremost high-k metal gate transistors (for instance, Intel corporation already uses second generation metal gate transistors in production of Sandy Bridge processors).

But as time has shown, reality has made adjustments to TSMC plans. Now it is the second half of October and the fourth quarter 2010. Still, there is no news form TSMC about 28nm.

Meanwhile, Chinesse media has shortly informed us about TSMC plan updates. This includes, the target date of the launch of the first FAB12 line for 28 LP process is December 2010. However, there are absolutely no words about production with high-k metal gate transistors which indicates the uncertainty of timing for launching such a production line.

TSMC can face some difficulties even after the launch of 28nm production line. If everything goes as planed at TMSC and FAB 12 will start production on the edge of year 2011, its turnout will meet the demand only somewhere in the second quarter of 2011. At the same time, 28 LP is only an interim production line. The target is 28nm logic with high-k metal gate transistors. The next step modernization including production line launch and refinement can take additionally up to six months.

Therefore, it can be predicted, that full-fledged 28nm products can see the light not earlier than in the third quarter 2011. Early products, based on 28 LP process technology, will undoubtedly bring some novelties, but this process is considered only as an intermediate.

Summing up the results of our short analysis, we can conclude, that we will have to wait for the breakthrough in the production of new GPUs until the end of the next year. Only companies NVIDIA and AMD can make adjustments in these assumptions. For example, both companies can place its production in former AMD fabs — now known as an independent company GLOBALFOUNDRIES

Sources: EETimes, CENS

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