Another Vote for Gate-First HKMG

{complink 4185|Panasonic} recently announced it would begin shipping 32nm gate-first HKMG LSI parts for use in its consumer line of Blu-ray Disc players.

This announcement is notable for several reasons. First, this is another endorsement for the gate-first HKMG team. {complink 2470|IBM Corp.} and the Common Platform foundries are going with gate-first. {complink 2657|Intel Corp.} and {complink 5388|Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC)} are the big players going with the gate-last HKMG technology.

Panasonic developed its process with {complink 12722|Renesas Electronics Corp.} based on a research program with IMEC. Panasonic uses a hafnium based high-k dielectric with its metal gate electrodes. Assuming this chip is being manufactured in Panasonic’s Uozu fab in Japan, that means Panasonic is the second company to mass-produce and ship a 32nm HKMG product. Of course, Intel was the first. {complink 103|Advanced Micro Devices} has manufactured chips at GlobalFoundries, using their 32nm gate-first HKMG technology, but is not expected to begin shipping product until the first half of 2011.

Who would have guessed that the industry’s most advanced process technology would be used to mass-produce chips that would be shipped this month for a consumer video player? I do love my videos, but does a Blu-ray 3D Disc really require semiconductor chip technology that is considered bleeding edge? And where’s {complink 5114|Sony Corp.}? Shouldn’t it be coming out with a new device soon?

This is most likely a MOS Special Purpose Logic chip. Panasonic says this technology is enabling it to improve transistor performance by up to 40 percent while cutting power consumption by 40 percent. The adoption of gate-first for a consumer application does make sense. Gate-first HKMG is touted as the solution for applications in fast-growing markets and is suppose to be less expensive and easier to implement with fewer process steps.

Anyone who said that technology development and adoption is slowing had better take another look at what is selling in Best Buy this holiday season. Semico is expecting another 32nm/28nm product announcement using gate-last sometime in October. If I were to start keeping score, I think gate-first and gate-last are still tied in this playoff series.

2 comments on “Another Vote for Gate-First HKMG

  1. Hawk
    October 21, 2010

    Joanne, I enjoyed your article and I appreciate the way you treated a complex and tech-heavy article with practical examples that folks like me can understand. There's a missing element that I am hoping you can address. This is the issue of the longer-term winner. You noted that Gate-First and Gate-Last are tied currently. If I was looking at investing in any of the parties pushing either product, what I would be interested in is the future. So, which is going to win eventually? Will it be Gate-First or Gate-Last and why? Where should I put my money? This is not an idle question. In the past, some people bet against Blu-Ray. See where it landed them. I certainly don't want to back the wrong, losing horse.

  2. Joanne Itow
    October 22, 2010


    Each technology has its own costs and benefits.  Gate-first can be a lower cost solution with quick time-to-market.   Products may not reach the same performance levels but there are plenty of end applications begging for a low cost solution today.  Many are speculating that gate-first will not deliver as we move to 22nm/20nm.    My response to that is 1) each technology node requires its own cost benefit analysis so everything is back on the table at that point and 2) in this industry, most technology has a much longer life as engineers are typically wrong when predicting the usefulness or introduction of new technology.  Everyone has the opportunity to improve on the next generation product.

    Gate-last may be the longer lived solution but not everyone can afford the initial price and sometimes its more important to be in the race.  In addition, gate-first and gate-last are not going to be the deciding factor.  Whether it’s the foundry offering the solution or the product we get from the technology, there are a lot of other factors involved in its success.     

    Competing technologies always bring out the best and the consumers are the beneficiaries.  

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