ARM Steps Up! And More Good News From Consortium’s FD-SOI Symposium in Silicon Valley


ARM is stepping up its effort to support the FD-SOI ecosystem. “Yes, we’re back,” confirmed Ron Moore, VP of ARM’s physical design group. This and much more good news came out of the recent FD-SOI Symposium organized in Silicon Valley by the SOI Consortium.

The full-day Symposium played to a packed room, and was followed the next day by a full-day design tutorial. Though it was a Silicon Valley event, people flew in from all over the world to be there. (BTW, these symposia and tutorials will also be offered in Japan in June, and Shanghai in the fall). I’ll cover the Silicon Valley FD-SOI design tutorial (which was excellent, btw) in a separate post.

Most of the presentations are now posted on the SOI Consortium website. Here in this ASN post, I’ll touch on some of the highlights of the day. Then in upcoming posts I’ll cover the presentations from Samsung and GlobalFoundries.

ARM Pitches In

If you’re designing in FD-SOI, we’ll help: that was the key message from ARM’s Ron Moore during the panel discussion at the end of the day. Earlier that morning, he’d given an excellent presentation entitled Low-Power IP: Essential Ingredients for IoT Opportunities.

CAGR for most IoT units is roughly 50%, he said, counting home (1.6B units by 2020), city (1.8B), industrial (0.6B) and automotive (1.1B). Compare that to the 2.8B smart phones – which he sees as a remote control and display device. The key differentiator for IoT is that 90% of the time the chip is idle, so you really don’t want leakage.

FD-SOI, he said, gives you a silicon platform that’s highly controllable, enables ultra-low power devices, and is really good with RF.  ARM’s worked with Samsung’s 28FDS FD-SOI offering comparing libraries on bulk and FDSOI, for example, and came up with some impressive figures (see the picture below).

ARM worked with Samsung to compare libraries on 28nm bulk vs 28nm FD-SOI, and came back with these very impressive results. (Courtesy: ARM, SOI Consortium)

The foundry partners and wafer providers are in place. So now ARM is asking about which subsystems are needed to fuel FD-SOI adoption.  Ron recognizes that the ARM IP portal doesn’t yet have anything posted for FD-SOI, but they know they need to do it. He called on the SOI Consortium to help with IoT reference designs and silicon proof points.

In the Q&A, audience member John Chen (VP of Technology and Foundry Management at NVIDIA) asked about FD-SOI and low-cost manufacturing of IoT chips. Moore replied that we should be integrating functionality and charging a premium for IoT chips – this is not about your 25-cent chip, he quipped.

NXP – New Levels in ULP

Geoff Lees, SVP & GM of NXP’s Microcontroller business gave a terrific talk on their new i.MX 7 and 8 chips on 28nm FD-SOI. (And Rick Merritt gave it great coverage in EETimes – see NXP Shows First FD-SOI Chips.)

NXP’s been sampling the i.MX 7 ULP to customers over the last six months, the i.MX 8QM is ramping, and the i.MX 8QXP, 8Q and 8DX are enroute. Each of these chips is optimized for specific applications using biasing.  A majority of the design of each chip is hard re-use, and the subsystems can be lifted and dropped right into the next chip in the series. Power consumption and leakage are a tiny fraction of what they’d had been in previous generations. Ultra low power (aka ULP)  is heading to new levels, he says.

With FD-SOI, it’s easy to optimize at multiple points: in the chip design phase, in the production phase and in the use phase. They can meet a wide range of use cases, precisely targeting for power usage. FD-SOI makes it a win-win: it’s a very cost effective way to work for NXP, plus their customers today need that broader range of functionality from each chip.

Geoff tipped his hat to contributions made here by Professor Boris Murmann of Stanford, who’s driving mixed signal and RF into new areas, enabling high-performance analog and RF integration. (Folks attending the FD-SOI tutorial the next day had the good fortune to learn directly from Professor Murmann.)

Finally, he cited something recently pointed out by Soitec (they’re the SOI wafer folks) Chief Scientist Bich-Yen Nguyen: if half your chip is analog and/or RF, she’s observed, the future is very bright indeed for FD-SOI.

And Much More

Briefly, here are some more highlights.

Synopsys: John Koeter, VP of the Marketing Solutions group showed slides of what they’ve done in terms of IP for Samsung and GlobalFoundries’ FD-SOI offerings.  But there’s a lot they’ve done with partners he couldn’t show because it’s not public. In terms of tools and flows, it’s all straightforward.

Dreamchip:  Designing their new chip in 22nm FD-SOI was 2.5x less expensive than designing it in FinFET would have been, said COO Jens Benndoorf in his presentation, New Computer Vision Processor Chip Design for Automotive ADAS CNN Applications in 22nm FDSOI.  One application for these chips (which taped out in January) will be “digital mirroring”: replacing sideview mirrors with screens. Why hasn’t this been done before? Because LED flickering really messes with sensor readings – but they’ve mastered that with algorithms. The chip will also be used for 360o top view cameras and pedestrian detection.  They’re using Arteris IP for the onchip networking, and implemented forward body bias (FBB).  The reference platform they created for licensing has generated lots of interest in the automotive supply chain, he said.

Dreamchip is using Arteris IP for their ADAS chip in GF’s 22nm FD-SOI (Courtesy: Dreamchip, SOI Consortium)

Greenwaves:  CEO Loic Lietar talked about the high performance, ultra-low power IoT applications processor they’re porting from bulk to FDSOI with a budget of just three million euros.   The RISC-V chip leverages an open source architecture (which he says customers love) and targets smart city, smart factory, security and safety applications. As such, it needs to wake up very fast using just microwatts of power – a perfect match for body biasing in FD-SOI.

 

Greenwaves expects big power savings in their move to FD-SOI. (Courtesy: Greenwaves, SOI Consortium)

Leti: In her talk about roadmaps, CEO Marie-Noelle Semeria said the main two drivers they’re seeing in the move to FD-SOI are #1: low power (a customer making chips for hearing aids can cut power by 8x using body biasing, for example) and #2: RF (with Ft and Fmax performance that “…will be hard for FinFET to achieve”). Leti knows how to pull in all kinds of boosters, and is finding that RF performance is still excellent at the 10/7nm node. They’ve developed a low-power IoT platform with IP available for licensing. Other recent FD-SOI breakthroughs by Leti include: demonstration of a 5G mmW 60GHz transceiver developed with ST; the first 300mm Qbit, opening the door to quantum computing; a photodiode opening the door to a light-controlled SRAM; and a new 3D memory architecture leveraging their CoolCubeTM that they’re working on with Stanford.

IBS: CEO Handel Jones predicts that there “will be war in the year to come” at the 22nm node, as all the big foundries take aim.  FD-SOI is the best technology for RF, ULP and AMS, and there’s a huge market for it. He also said China made the right decision to support FD-SOI, and will come out ahead in 5G.

The day ended with a lively panel discussion (moderated by yours truly) featuring experts from ARM, GF, Invecas, Soitec, Synopsys, Verisilicon and Sankalp.  IP availability was a big theme, but generally there was agreement that while some gaps still exist, they’re being filled:  lack of IP is no longer an issue. Soitec VP Christophe Maleville confirmed that the wafers for FD-SOI are readily available and that they’re seeing excellent yields.

All in all, it was another really good day for FD-SOI in Silicon Valley.

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