FD-SOI – Yes, New Products – and Great Press, too!

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FD-SOI has hit Q1 with terrific momentum, both in terms of visibility into products and in press coverage. In case you missed them, here are three articles you should definitely read:

But, if you don’t have time to read them all right away, here are some highlights to tide you over til you do.

Expanding Adoption

Ed Sperling at SemiEngineering sees FD-SOI adoption “… gaining ground across a number of new markets, ranging from IoT to automotive to machine learning, and diverging sharply from its original position as a less costly alternative to finFET-based designs.”

After recounting the advantages (with which ASN readers are well familiar), he notes that two things have changed in our industry. First, fewer and fewer companies can afford to design in the most advanced FinFET nodes. And second: there are enough emerging markets where power is critical, but there won’t necessarily be the billions of units per chip needed to amortize exorbitant design costs.

In particular, for FD-SOI adoption he cites, “…the inferencing stage of machine learning [note: that happens in “edge” devices], base-stations, IoT and IIoT, bitcoin mining, 5G, radar, and a variety of automotive applications.” (GF’s Jamie Schaeffer makes the technical case in the article for NB-IoT and automotive if you want more info.)

ST’s Giorgio Cesana makes an interesting point about body biasing (that I hadn’t hear before) re: uni-direction vs. bi-directional. Currently, he explains, body biasing is uni-directional – although you can use it now in such a way that is effectively bi-directional. However, after the 22nm node, it will become truly bi-directional, which will enable wider swings for power savings. (For those concerned about pre-mature chip aging, see the full article for explanations by experts from Soitec who explain why that’s not a problem after all.)

Cesana also points out that the kind of chips leveraging FD-SOI are not the kind of chips that will need to move to a new node every year. They’re looking for power savings, not shrink. Sperling goes on to make an interesting observation about Intel/MobileEye and power savings vs. shrink – by all means read what he has to say about that….

In conclusion, Sperling asserts that we are now witnessing a shift in the semi supply chain essentially dovetailing with the expansion of FD-SOI adoption and its ecosystem, wherein “…as new markets open up, chipmakers are finding themselves much closer to the application than in the past.”

All in all a great read – don’t miss it.


David Lammers (who you probably know from SST) wrote about products on FD-SOI for GF’s Foundry Files in 22FDX Shows IoT Traction at MWC 2018. A number of start-ups will be showing products on GF’s 22FDX (FD-SOI) technology at Mobile World Congress.

For example, Nanotel Technology is using 22FDX to “…reduce power consumption for its mixed-signal NB-IoT modem.” Lammers interviewed the company’s CTO, Anup Savla, who explained, “We have a digital engine, a processor, designed around IoT applications, where the emphasis is on low power and low leakage. With 22FDX there are knobs that are available to turn down the power and leakage. The opportunities to do that are unparalleled, and you just don’t get that kind of opportunity from bulk CMOS.” A significant part to this design is analog – which of course really benefits from FD-SOI.

Riot Micro CEO Peter Wong cites savings in power, area and TTM with 22FDX. (Courtesy: GlobalFoundries)

Riot Micro on the other hand, has designed an all-digital cellular modem for LTE Cat-M and NB-IOT. There’s no DSP, and big parts of the chip can be shut down as needed to save power for long-term battery operation in the field (get more details in the full GF blog). Several major cellular carriers are on track to certify it this year, and a Middle Eastern customer plans to incorporate it into an emergency-alert system. The company’s CEO, Peter Wong told Lammers, “With 22FDX, the value proposition for us is potential power and area savings.” They also leveraged the growing 22FDX IP ecosystem to accelerate TTM.

Dream Chip Technologies, which as Lammers reminds us, showed their multi-core vision processor at MWC last year, says that now “…the design is providing European auto makers and Tier 1 automotive component suppliers with a platform from which they can create custom derivatives.”

Verisilicon, an SOI Consortium member and a major FD-SOI champion in China will be teaming up with GF show their dual-mode connectivity solutions (which we first heard about last year). GF and VeriSilicon have a suite of IP so that customers can create single-chip, low-power wide-area (LPWA) solutions that support either LTE-M (for the US) or NB-IoT (for Asia & Europe). The IP covers integrated baseband, power management, RF radio and front-end components.

Lammers also cited Anubhav Gupta, GF’s director of strategic marketing and business development for IoT, AI & Machine Learning. He said they’ve got customers taking older multi-chip designs and re-creating them as single-chip solutions in 22FDX for better performance and savings in area, power and cost. Gupta noted that with body biasing in digital designs, they can operate down to 0.4V with standby leakage currents of less than one picoamp per micron. And when embedded MRAM is used in tandem with on-chip SRAM, off-chip flash can be completely eliminated.


Clear Winner

In a wide-ranging interview (see part 7, which focuses on FD-SOI), GF CTO Gary Patton told Anandtech’s Ian Cutress that, “FinFET is a great technology for [performance at any cost], but if you’re looking for something that is more in the consumer space, you need to balance performance with power and cost, you know FD-SOI is a clear winner.”

Patton told Cutress that they have working 12FDX devices in NY that are already close to reaching performance targets. They’ll be in risk production in early 2019.

Meanwhile in 22FDX, Patton talked about the different flavors, including RF, ULP, UL leakage and mmWave, and how well suited they are for target applications especially in automotive and IoT. Elsewhere in the interview he mentioned that potential customers in the cryptocurrency mining businesses are looking at 22FDX, and that ST will be using it to do some “incredible products”.

All in all – products and press – it’s a really fine Q1.


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