Analyst Perspective: Why GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ 22FDX will be a Major Revolution

Dan G. Hutcheson

Foundry Files Guest Blog

This article originally appeared in The Chip Insider, August 7, 2015, and is printed here with permission from VLSI Research, Inc.

GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ 22FDX is the first radically new process since Intel introduced the first working finFET process. You may have noticed an omission on my part for some time. That is I’ve never written much about FD SOI over the years. The reasons are pretty simple. First, I didn’t have anything positive to say that I really believed.

The problem with FD SOI has been that it’s only salable advantage was that it was cheap. And even that was in question, because the big dogs didn’t bite — and they’re all about lowering cost. Even if it was cheaper, no fabless company is going to risk its future on lower wafer costs. The upfront NRE costs of a new design, time-to-market constraints, as well as the consequences of failure should it not yield, overwhelm the promise of cheaper wafers. The giga-fabbed chip makers know this, so they won’t move until their customer moves. That’s all changed with 22FDX.

The big advantage of 22FDX is the ability to have real-time trade-offs between power and performance via software-controlled body-biasing of the transistor. Yes, there are real time power consumption trade-offs that can be made at the device level — mostly by turning on-and-off major functional blocks.  But to the best of my knowledge it’s never been at the transistor level on a market-worthy process. If this works like they say it does, 22FDX will be a major revolution that will be disruptive throughout the electronics industry. Here’s why:

Imagine a future where you could set how many hours your battery will last. Right now, the best thing an OEM can do is shut certain functions off as power dwindles, such as how the Apple WATCH does. But with 22FDX, you could potentially set your watch to something like, ‘run until 9 PM, when I expect to take it off.’ And then change it to later or reset it the next day if you wanted. Then the watch would match its power-performance trade-off to a prediction based on your typical use and then modify its performance based on how you’re using it that day. It would work the same way on phones, laptops, and just about any mobile electronics you can think of. Now how cool is that!

This guest article was written by Dan Hutcheson, CEO and Chairman of VLSI Research Inc. Hutcheson is a recognized authority on the semiconductor industry, winning SEMI’s Sales and Marketing Excellence Award in 2012 for “empowering executives with tremendous strategic and tactical marketing value” through his e-letter, The Chip Insider®; his book Maxims of Hi-Tech, and his many interviews of executives. Dan’s public work on the industry includes two innovative articles for Scientific American challenging predictions of the demise of Moore’s Law by demonstrating how scientists’ innate abilities to innovate have outpaced the doomsayers and an invited article on the history and economics of Moore’s Law for the SIA.