Sometimes we hear terms thrown around and just assume that a larger or smaller number is better than the previous series. For instance, we know that 4GB is ‘better’ than 2GB of RAM, we know that DDR4 RAM is faster than DDR3 RAM, we know that a processor running at 2.7GHz is faster than one running 1.2GHz and we know that a 10nm FinFET processing node is better than a 20nm or 14nm…but what does that all mean.
Samsung was the first to introduce the 14nm technology in its Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge devices. Now they are in a battle with the industry leader TSMC, who is bypassing 14nm and jumping right into the 10nm arena. Samsung has been working on their own 10nm process for a while, and has finally made it official when Kelvin Low from Samsung Foundry confirmed in a video posted on YouTube that Samsung has formally added 10nm FinFET into their process roadmap. This is most likely to let their chip customers know that they can rely on Samsung, not TSMC for their future chip purposes.
Whether we realize it or not, the FinFETs goes back to the old trusty transistor – some of you may remember them – and the more of them the better…up to a point. The basic tenet of Moore’s law has remained the same – the number of transistors on a given area of silicon doubles every two years. The more we demand from our devices, the more processing power we need, but at the same time power drainage, heat buildup and even leakage between the transistors that are at such a close proximity to each other. The 6800 processors of the mid-seventies had only 5,000 transistors whereas the multicore processors of today have approximately 3 billion!
This growth was achieved by using smaller cmos processing nodes that use planar field effect transistor (FET) technology, but as they become so small and close together, leakage could occur and it was difficult to completely turn off a transistor. This leakage would unnecessarily increase power consumption and eat into the battery life. FinFETs solved this problem by constructing and actual 3D structure that looks like a ‘fin’ sticking up…hence the name. These ‘fins’ allow very little current to leak throughout the body when the device is in the ‘off state,’ enabling the use of lower threshold voltages which results in better performance and less drain on the battery.
What does this mean for us…that the new 10nm FinFET technology in our electronic devices will offer even more impressive processing power, less power consumption and less heat related issues. Hung Hao, the senior vice president of foundry business at Samsung, said that the new 10nm FinFET process offers “significant power, area and performance advantages.” The first 10nm wafers have already been shown and chip designers working in the mobile field were put on notice that Samsung 10nm FinFET processing nodes will be available by the end of this year. Although the ‘node size’ in our smartphone processors are surely taken for granted, they are something that we should excite us – more power and less battery usage is something to be celebrated.