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TSMC pushes FinFET tech back to 14nm process size

Taiwan Semiconductor has announced its plans to catch up with rival Intel, working on FinFET technology - but reveals that it won't be available to its customers until the 14nm process size hits the mainstream.

FinFET - a term developed by researchers from the University of California at Berkeley, and roughly analogous to Intel's tri-gate transistor technology - promises some impressive improvements in low-power performance for a range of semiconductor applications, but thus far TSMC has shied away from offering the technology to the many customers of its foundry business.

Back in 2002, the company demonstrated a product it dubbed the Omega FinFET - a 25nm transistor which could operate on just 0.7V. Sadly, this technical demonstration failed to lead to a commercial implementation and the company has declared that its customers will be waiting longer still if they want to take advantage of the benefits the technology has to offer.

"We are working on FinFET at 20nm," TSMC's EIlzabeth Sun has confirmed to thinq_ "and will offer that to our customers starting with 14nm.

"I am afraid," she continued, "that we do not plan to say any more to the public regarding FinFET."

TSMC's silence on the matter is somewhat telling: being first to market with a FinFET-like solution at the 28nm process size has given Intel a major head-start over its foundry competitors, with the company's figures suggesting such benefits as a drop in power draw by half for the same performance over planar transistor technologies.

By sticking to planar transistor layouts for 20nm, TSMC is restricting its customers to last-generation technology for an entire process size - and with 14nm not expected to hit the mainstream for another few years, leaves the low-power high-performance market almost exclusively to Intel.

When Intel announced its tri-gate transistor technology, it crowed that it would have a three-year head start over its competitors. While the figure was, at the time, taken with a pinch of salt, it's looking increasingly like the company might be in the right ballpark.

So far, no other major foundry has announced an impending FinFET product - or, indeed, anything of a similar nature.