TSMC Unveils N5A Giving Vehicles Supercomputer Powers

One of the many genres of online videos that I enjoy are car rescue videos of old-school cars that have sat in a field or a barn for 20 years coming back to life so long as you can get fuel and spark to the engine. While many reminisce fondly of simpler times and technologies, cars have greatly evolved since the time of carburetors. Consumers have demanded better safety, better performance, better efficiency, improved reliability, more convenience and more luxury.

Computer chips and software may have been esoteric concepts for car engineers a couple generations ago, but they are now inseparable from modern cars. Today, semiconductors and software are pervasive in all modern cars even without the driver’s knowledge. There could be well over a thousand semiconductor components in a single vehicle controlling everything from the engine management system, backup cameras, battery charging systems, tire pressure monitors to the infotainment system. What key roles will semiconductors play in vehicles designed today, tomorrow, what of the future?

Vehicles continue to evolve at a tremendous pace. From TSMC’s perspective, some of the key technology trends driving vehicle semiconductor innovations include drivetrain electrification, active safety and autonomous driving, immersive infotainment systems, and wireless connectivity. Breaking down these trends down to the semiconductor level, there are two major types of automotive semiconductors: the first are chips with specialized, component-level functions, and the second are chips handling new computing-focused workloads.

The specialized chips include products like sonic sensors, power controllers, MCUs (micro-controller units), high-resolution image sensors, etc. that are typically manufactured on more mature and specialty semiconductor technologies. There are hundreds of these types of chips throughout the car.

The second type require much greater computing power, and are the focus of this blog. New workloads like autonomous driving, active-safety, immersive infotainment and wireless connectivity are placing the planet’s most advanced semiconductor logic technologies into vehicles. These features need the highest performing and most energy efficient processors. Cars designed today relate more to a contemporary supercomputer than to its carbureted ancestors.

Let us look at the example of autonomous driving capable vehicle; this function pushes hardware and software technologies to the very limits of technology today. Vehicles will need to be equipped with many sensors in order to collect high resolution, low latency data and process it using an onboard AI model to make thousands of decisions per second. Each decision can affect the safety of passengers and pedestrians alike. This requires an awesome amount of computing power. This system must also be energy efficient because of the power generation and cooling limitations of cars. These advanced computing systems also need to meet with stringent automotive safety and quality standards. This is a tall order for any processor and semiconductor technology.

TSMC is pleased to announce N5A, the world’s most advanced semiconductor technology, enhanced for automotive. TSMC’s consumer N5 semiconductor technology is the foundation for today’s most powerful supercomputers and advanced consumer devices. N5 is unrivaled for performance, power efficiency and transistor density. N5A further enhances N5 for the rigors of the modern vehicle, and is on track to be qualified by third quarter of 2022.

Compared to TSMC’s N7 technology with the Automotive Service Package, N5A delivers a ~20% improvement in performance or a ~40% improvement in power efficiency and a ~80% improvement in logic density.

Automotive standards for quality and reliability are far more rigorous versus those for consumer class products. Consider that a vehicle can have thousands of parts; everything from semiconductors to switches to door handles, a failure of any of these parts may impact personal safety, affect the perception of reliability & quality for the manufacturer and additionally, increase their warranty costs. Car companies have pushed a zero-defect mindset to its suppliers; conceptually, if all components have zero defects, the sum of all components should also have zero defects. In practice, this goal is aspirational but the mindset is critical to improve the reliability and quality of vehicles and all of their parts.

TSMC shares the zero-defect mindset as we manufacture billions of semiconductor products every year. TSMC’s automotive semiconductor technologies improves both intrinsic and extrinsic quality.

Intrinsic Quality or initial quality is heavily dependent on the underlying semiconductor technology and design rules. Extrinsic Quality for automotive is how a part performs after it passes initial test and inspection and is used in the vehicle; in other words, how durable is a part? Vehicles subject their parts and components to an extremely harsh environment with bumps, thermal cycling, and things like spilled milk.

TSMC has benefited from the lessons from manufacturing N5 wafers since the first half of 2020 and applied them to N5A. resulting in world-class D0 (Defect Density) and DPPM (Defective Parts Per Million) out-of-the gate for automotive – improving both intrinsic and extrinsic quality. TSMC’s technology leadership and scale allows us to offer an enhanced version of the world’s most advanced semiconductor technology for vehicles only months after it became available for the consumer.

TSMC’s N5A is undergoing qualification for automotive industry’s toughest standards for quality, reliability and functional safety, including the AEC-Q100, ISO 26262 and IATF16949 standards on track for its release in third quarter.

Automotive Industry Standards for TSMC N5A
Automotive Technology

TSMC’s commitment to the vibrant and expansive semiconductor design ecosystem extends the TSMC IP9000A Assessment requirements for N5A to our design partners. Complying with our standards ensures the use of TSMC qualified automotive foundation IP & building blocks and automotive spice models.

As much as I love the simplicity of yesterday’s cars, I look forward to a future with safe, self-driving cars. The difference between science and science fiction is engineering. With TSMC’s N5A, we are bringing what was once science fiction into reality for automotive.

Learn more at automotive.tsmc.com

All diagrams, animations and videos are for demonstrative and illustrative purposes onlyTSMC’s N5A is undergoing qualification for automotive industry’s toughest standards