TSMC abandons 22nm process

Taiwanese silicon presser TSMC has announced that it’s not going to bother with the 22nm manufacturing process that everyone else is shouting about, and will instead skip straight to a smaller 20nm process.

The chip fabricator’s senior vice president of research and development, Dr Shang-yi Chiang, revealed the plan at TSMC’s 2010 Technology Sympsium, where around 1,500 TSMC customers were present. According to Chiang, TSMC expects to begin production of 20nm chips in the second half of 2012.

TSMC says that the 20nm process will be based on a planar process, using novel strained silicon, low-resistance copper Ultra-Low-K interconnects and enhanced high-K metal gate technology.

The announcement comes at a time when the other big chip fabricators are all gearing up to produce 22nm chips next year. Last year, Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini proudly held up a 22nm Intel wafer at IDF in 2009, saying that the technology would be available in second half of 2011. Similarly, AMD’s former fabrication wing, GlobalFoundries, plans to ramp its process up to 22nm in 2012.

Explaining the decision, Chiang said: “We have reached a point in advanced technology development where we need to be actively concerned about the return on investment of advanced technology. We also need to broaden our thinking beyond the process technology barriers that are inherent in every new node.”

TSMC’s earlier move to a 40nm process has been troublesome, with yields well below expectations. The problems have had a massive impact on the supply of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 400-series GPUs, as well as AMD’s Radeon HD 5000-series chips, both of which are still in short supply.

Presumably, TSMC hopes that getting an advanced 20nm process up and running ahead of its competitors will help tempt potential deserters its way. Let’s hope it gets this one right.