GlobalFoundries puts rivals on notice, tips 20-nm process

GlobalFoundries puts rivals on notice, tips 20-nm process.

Despite a sudden lull in the IC market, GlobalFoundries is moving full speed ahead with its aggressive silicon foundry strategy, putting competitors on notice and tipping a 20-nm technology node at its inaugural technology conference. SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Despite a sudden and disturbing lull in the IC market, GlobalFoundries Inc. is moving full speed ahead with its aggressive silicon foundry strategy.

At its inaugural technology event here, GlobalFoundries also fired a warning shot and put its competitors on notice, namely TSMC, UMC and others. Upstart GlobalFoundries is seeking to move up the foundry ranks sooner than later, by planning to double its 300-mm capacity over the next two years, entering new markets like MEMS and analog, and accelerating its leading-edge process development efforts.

As part of those efforts, the company disclosed plans to devise a 20-nm process and rolled out a new, high-end 28-nm offering. It also announced an intellectual property (IP) deal with ARM Holdings plc and said it is developing technology to enable 3-D chips based on through-silicon-vias (TSVs).

Like its rivals, GlobalFoundries’ capacity is tight—and business remains strong—despite a sudden slowdown in select chip markets. The PC market is seeing a slowdown, impacting many foundry customers like AMD, Nvidia, among others. Intel, Micron and others are impacted as well.

However, business is still “very strong,” said Doug Grose, chief executive of privately-held GlobalFoundries, in a brief interview with EE Times, at the company’s  technology here. “I think it will be strong in 2011.”

GlobalFoundries appears to be moving in the right direction. Jim Feldhan, president of Semico Research Corp., said he is impressed with GlobalFoundries’ early efforts since its inception last year. “They have a very aggressive roadmap,” he said, “but now have to execute” to overtake some of the competition.

Execution is a key for GlobalFoundries. While the company has the pieces in place to become a contender, it must make good on its ambitious promises, integrate a recent and huge acquisition, and remain nimble in the competitive foundry front.
In 2009, the chip-manufacturing arm from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) was spun off into a new foundry company. The foundry spinoff, GlobalFoundries, is a joint venture between AMD and Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Investment Co. (ATIC).

ATIC plans to boost its stake in GlobalFoundries from about 68 percent to 70 percent. Over time, ATIC will take the entire stake in GlobalFoundries from AMD.
In September, ATIC agreed to acquire Singapore-based Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. for a total of $3.9 billion. Chartered is being folded into GlobalFoundries.

Fighting on two fronts
In simple terms, GlobalFoundries is fighting on two fronts. It is devising silicon-on-insulator (SOI) processes for AMD, which competes with mighty Intel Corp. On the other front, GlobalFoundries is developing  foundry-generic bulk processes to compete against TSMC, UMC, SMIC and others.

Last year, TSMC remained the world’s largest foundry, followed in order by UMC, Chartered, SMIC and GlobalFoundries, according to IC Insights Inc. In 2009, GlobalFoundries had sales of $1.065 billion, while Chartered had sales $1.540 billion, according to the firm.

In 2010, most experts expect GlobalFoundries to leapfrog SMIC and UMC in sales to become the world’s second largest foundry, behind TSMC.  SMIC and UMC are quickly falling behind the leaders in technology.

Both SMIC and UMC are now becoming the “fast followers” in the foundry business. But over time, SMIC and UMC may end up becoming takeover targets, according to observers.

Another leading-edge vendor, IBM Corp., may divest its semiconductor and foundry operations in the distant future, some have speculated.  Some believe GlobalFoundries will likely buy IBM’s chip unit.

In the long run, the leading-edge foundry market could have three strong competitors: TSMC, GlobalFoundries and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. GlobalFoundries poses a threat to TSMC in the leading-edge foundry market and deep-pocketed Samsung is pouring millions of dollars into its foundry business.

The dynamics between GlobalFoundries and Samsung are worth watching. IBM, GlobalFoundries, Renesas, Samsung, ST, Toshiba and others are part of IBM’s technology alliance.

One day, a rift could emerge between GlobalFoundries and Samsung. “On one hand, we compete with” Samsung, Grose said. “On the other hand, we cooperate with them.”
In any case, there is a capital spending race between GlobalFoundries, TSMC and Samsung.  TSMC has raised its capital spending to $5.9 billion in 2010.
GlobalFoundries is holding to its previous plan to spend $2.6-to-$2.8 billion in 2010, according to Grose.

No major surprises on process roadmap
Meanwhile, at its technology event, GlobalFoundries outlined its process roadmap, but there were no major surprises on that front, said Dean Freeman, an analyst with Gartner Inc. “They are on track” in terms of their process roadmap, he said.

Perhaps the only surprise was the disclosure of a new 20-nm process on the roadmap. GlobalFoundries declined to elaborate on the 20-nm technology, nor would it discuss the timetable for delivery.

Regarding its process roadmap, GlobalFoundries is more aggressive than most had thought. For example, on the processor side of the business, where it serves AMD, GlobalFoundries’ roadmap “has been the most aggressive it has ever been,” said Doug Freedman, an analyst from Gleacher & Co.

At present, GlobalFoundries has been ramping up 65-nm (and above) processes at Chartered’s Fab 7 facility in Singapore. The Fab 7 facility will ramp “a little bit” of the company’s 40-nm process, Grose said.

GlobalFoundries’ Fab 1 facility in Dresden, Germany, will become the high-volume fab for the company’s 45- and 40-nm processes.  That fab is ramping to 80,000 wafers a month in the facility.

Within the fab, the company is shipping a 40-nm bulk process, based on a low power offering. The Dresden fab is also offering a 45-nm SOI process, mainly for AMD’s processors. By the first half of 2011, GlobalFoundries will bring up a 32-nm SOI with its initial high-k/metal-gate (HKMG) scheme. The 32-nm process is also tuned for AMD’s processors.

Surprisingly, even before 32-nm, GlobalFoundries will tape out a 28-nm bulk CMOS process with HKMG. The 28-nm process, which will initially be a high-performance offering, is expected to tape out by the end of 2010. Both 32- and 28-m HKMG offerings are based on a gate-first scheme.

At the event, the company announced the addition of a new technology offering based on its 28-nm HKMG technology. Scheduled to begin risk production in Q4 2011, the 28-nm High Performance Plus (HPP) technology provides a performance boost of as much as 10 percent over the company’s current 28nm High Performance (HP) offering.

The Dresden fab is starting work to help develop 22-nm CMOS process and will run the process in volume. It is not clear whether the 22-nm will include a departure from the gate-first HKMG technology.

In the future, Fab 1 will also become the home of a new 20-nm pilot line. GlobalFoundries’ wafer fab under construction in New York state, Fab 8, would run the 22-nm production and more advanced nodes.

Construction for Fab 8 started in July of 2009. The fab will have 60,000 wafer starts per month once it goes into full production. Production is expected to go online in 2012.

With risk production set to begin in the second half of 2012, the company is well on its way to delivering 22- and 20-nm technology to customers for product introduction in 2013. The 20-nm technology offerings will come in two varieties: a High Performance (HP) technology designed for wired applications such as servers and media processors, and a 20-nm Super Low Power (SLP) technology designed for power-sensitive mobile applications.

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