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FinFET Roadmap Ends at 3nm

June 29, 2021

Author: Mike Demler

The FinFET has enjoyed a good 10-year run, but the next process node will likely be its last. At 3nm, TSMC will stick with FinFETs, but Samsung plans to switch to next-generation nanosheet transistors. 

Because shrinking nanometer devices is increasingly difficult, the time between major process nodes is growing. TSMC began 5nm production in 2Q20, but its 3nm process won’t reach volume production until late 2022. In 2019, Samsung released a v0.1 (alpha) 3nm process design kit (PDK) to lead customers, with plans to begin volume production by the end of this year. Because more than a year has passed since it updated the status of that process, we expect similar delays will keep Samsung from entering volume production until at least 4Q22.

TSMC is also developing a nanosheet technology, but it sees 3nm FinFETs as reducing schedule risk—critical for smartphone-chip vendors, which account for half of the foundry’s revenue. But a 2H22 launch for its next node is already late compared with the previous cadence, potentially causing Apple to delay introduction of its new iPhones next year. 

Although TSMC describes its 3nm technology as a full-node advance from 5nm, designers can expect a smaller transistor-density increase relative to previous nodes. Processor designs will scale even less, however, owing to technology issues that impair SRAM shrinks. As a result, a 3nm chip with a 50-50 mix of logic and memory will be about 30% smaller than at 5nm. The foundry plans to use nanosheet transistors at 2nm, but volume production probably won’t begin until 2025. 

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