The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) has announced that its 28nm node has achieved mass production, and the first 300mm wafers have been delivered to its customers. The firm is most famous for producing GPUs for the graphics arm of AMD and NVIDIA.
TSMC has several 28nm processes for its customers, generally varying according to the intended application. The 28nm High Performance (28HP) process is for graphics chips, while the 28nm High Performance Low Power (28HPL) process is for mobile graphics. 28nm Low Power (28LP) and 28nm High Performance Mobile Computing (28HPM) will be used mostly for ARM processors, but there will of course be some overlap. 28HP, 28HPL and 28LP are currently in volume production, while 28HPM will be ready for mass production by the end of this year.
Although the company is optimistic about its latest technology, TSMC has had problems with launching new nodes in the past. Delays and problematic yields in the 40nm process led to shortages of Radeon HD 5800 series video cards during 2009 and 2010.
The subsequent Radeon HD 6000 series (Northern Islands) family was originally designed for TSMC's 32nm HKMG process. That entire node was scrapped due to various problems, and all of its engineering resources were put into the 28nm process instead.
AMD ended up having to redesign Northern Islands for 40nm, leading to significant launch delays. The GPUs ended up being bigger than intended, resulting in higher production costs, lower clock speeds, and higher energy consumption compared to the original 32nm design.
The latest chips for AMD will be in the Southern Islands series, which will supplant the Radeon HD 6000 series. The first cards are to be released by the end of the year, but the current production schedule could indicate a launch as early as the end of November. The first AMD 28nm GPUs taped out earlier in the spring, and the company has already demonstrated them several times at various industry events.
NVIDIA's Kepler GPUs have also taped out at 28nm, but will not be launched until Q1 of 2012. Sources have indicated that the chip is quite large and yields are not yet high enough to ensure a successful launch at this time.
Other notable 28nm customers for TSMC include Xilinx, Qualcomm, and Altera. More than 80 of TSMC's customers have already taped out at 28nm. As the largest semiconductor foundry in the world, this process is not only vital to TSMC, but the entire semiconductor industry. Delays will not only affect TSMC, but slow down the advance of technology. Competitor GlobalFoundries is not expected to begin mass production of its own 28nm process until 2012.