Tuesday, March 7th 2017

Globalfoundries: 7 nm to Enable up to 2.7x Smaller Dies, 5 GHz CPUs

Globalfoundries' Chief Technical Officer, Gary Patton, talked about the future he believes can be possible in future manufacturing processes, calling for particular attention towards the next step in the ladder at 7 nm. Apparently, the 7 nm process at Globalfoundries has received a shot in the arm from the integration of ex IBM engineering specialists (remember that IBM practically paid Globalfoundries to take its manufacturing division of its hands), and the company now expects better than foreseen technical specs and achievements of its 7 nm process.

While a move from 14 nm to 7 nm was expected to provide, at the very best, a halving in the actual size of a chip manufactured in 7 nm compared to 14 nm, Gary Patton is now saying that the are should actually be reduced by up to 2.7 times the original size. To put that into perspective, AMD's 1000 series processors on the Zeppelin die and 14 nm process, which come in at 213 mm² for the full, 8-core design, could be brought down to just 80 mm² instead. AMD could potentially use up that extra die space to either build in some overprovisioning, should the process still be in its infancy and yields need a small boost; or cram it with double the amount of cores and other architectural improvements, and still have chips that are smaller than the original Zen dies.
According to Patton, these die space saving improvements aren't the only thing that has gone on better than they expected on the 7 nm manufacturing process. Patton said that he expects this design to be able to scale pretty well to some 5 GHz operating frequencies. Now, this is the least interesting part of the 7 nm equation, even though it might not seem like it. The ability to scale up to 5 GHz frequencies will of course depend on the architecture's design being able to achieve that operating frequency stably, most of all. And of course, we've already had an historical example of an architecture that aims to go as high as possible in the frequency department with Intel's NetBurst - and we all remember how that went.
It remains to be seen what these 7 nm expectations will mean for AMD, of course. But recent events have made it abundantly clear that the company is now in the more solid competition footing it ever has been with Intel when it comes to manufacturing processes. It seems that AMD's decision to spin off its manufacturing division was a heavy, but ultimately smart decision; let's see where this road will take us.
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