Keynote Preview: Silicon Innovation Looks Toward Mobile Convergence


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Keynote Preview: Silicon Innovation Looks Toward Mobile Convergence

In a keynote address at SEMICON West, GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ Gregg Bartlett will explain while silicon innovation is still driving the electronics industry, where consumers are expecting more from their mobile devices.

by Aaron Hand

As the electronics industry struggles to take full advantage of trends toward such phenomena as social networking, cloud computing, and the promise of unlimited connectivity, it may appear that the days of silicon innovation driving electronics technology are over. But that’s simply not true, contends Gregg Bartlett, senior vice president, technology and R&D at GLOBALFOUNDRIES.

Bartlett’s keynote address at SEMICON West 2010, “The Centrality of Silicon: How Semiconductors are Driving the Next Wave of Innovation,” will focus on the role of semiconductor technology in delivering leading-edge consumer experiences faster, as well as the challenges to continued technology scaling.

Mobile convergence is undeniably the end use making the biggest impact in the technology industry right now, according to Bartlett. “As the world becomes increasingly untethered, device makers are exploring the vast region between the personal computer and the cell phone to determine which products best deliver on the promise of unlimited connectivity,” he said, noting that the market for smart mobile devices is growing faster than any other. Also growing fast are consumer expectations. Bartlett continued, “People expect the world from their mobile devices: PC-class performance, extended battery life, highly integrated multimedia experience, full-featured web capabilities, and the list goes on.”

To meet these consumer expectations, designers must turn to more advanced technologies. But the semiconductor technology is actually moving faster than the ability of designers to harness it, Bartlett said, which requires close collaboration among players across the semiconductor ecosystem.

One of the most significant innovations that has taken place in CMOS fabrication since the inception of silicon VLSI is high-k/metal gate (HKMG) transistor technology, Bartlett argues. “HKMG enables a revival in transistor scaling that had stalled with poly SiON gate technology,” he said. “This is a truly revolutionary technology and I am confident in our ability to bring it to market, but the challenges associated with a new approach to building transistors can’t be ignored.”

GLOBALFOUNDRIES, along with its partners, has chosen to implement a gate-first approach to HKMG at the 32/28 nm node. This is partly because it shares the process flow, design flexibility, design elements and benefits of all the previous nodes that were based on poly SiON gates, Bartlett said. “This minimizes the risk associated with bringing a new technology up to volume.”

Other key technology enablers include other materials innovations such as strained silicon and ultralow-k dielectrics, new transistor structures such as finFETs, and lithography advances. “Immersion lithography was a critical innovation that helped get the industry to where we are today, and we are confident that our approach to immersion lithography can be scaled to the 22 nm node,” Bartlett said. “Beyond that, we are actively investing in developing next-generation techniques, including extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography.”

Cost-effective 3-D stacking will also enable significant improvements in overall semiconductor performance, Bartlett added. GLOBALFOUNDRIES recently announced a collaboration with Qualcomm to explore die-package interaction and 3D packaging technologies, he said, and the foundry is working on a research project with Fraunhofer IZM/ASSID to develop 3D processor/memory integration.

An increasingly fabless world

According to Bartlett, much of the momentum in the smart mobile device sector is being driven by the fabless business model, which continues to make up an increasing piece of the semiconductor market as chipmakers struggle to keep up with skyrocketing manufacturing costs. Continued innovation in this sector relies heavily on close collaboration. “The world’s leading fabless companies have made it clear that they are looking for deep collaboration with their foundry partners as opposed to a contract manufacturing service,” Bartlett said, adding that a new collaborative model is needed to give foundry customers the intimacy of an IDM.

One mobile trend driven largely by Apple’s development of the App Store is a move away from data processing-centric platforms and toward content- and application-driven platforms, Bartlett said. “Firms are now changing their focus to developing platforms that are ready to meet the needs of specific applications, as opposed to always focusing on the fastest and most power-efficient silicon,” he said. “We are working with our partners on several projects designed to deliver application-optimized platforms to enable faster time-to-volume for advanced SoCs.”

Bartlett’s keynote, “Silicon Innovation Looks Toward Mobile Convergence”, will be given Wednesday, July 14, 10:00am – 10:45am, on the Keynote Stage, Esplanade Hall, Moscone South