A GlobalFoundries Update

We spent some time recently with the team at GlobalFoundries to get an update on its status as an independent foundry company, its first and second customers, how the move to 32nm and 28nm is progressing and to speculate on what it means for the rest of the industry.
Many of our readers will be quietly noting to themselves that before the introduction of GlobalFoundries, they had never seen a lot of coverage of foundry companies.  The dominant player in this market until AMD spun off its own on fab facilities was TSMC – and to be sure they are STILL the dominant force – and the Taiwanese firm had little interest in projecting any kind of image to the public or press.  The team at GlobalFoundries has a much more public-centric outlook on things and as such has taken it upon themselves to open up the world of silicon manufacturing to a new audience in hopes to influence future customers.

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Fab 1 in Dresden – yes that is the real color of this section of the building

We have written about GF several times before as the company has continued to grow over its first 8 months of existence.  They have seen a transition from 65nm to 45nm process technologies with ramping acceleration, broken ground on a new fab in upstate New York, signed a non-AMD customer in ST Micro and even completed a licensing agreement with ARM in order to open up the field for numerous other partners in the near future. 

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GF has been open about the company’s process technology roadmap – no doubt to convince new customers that they are the right choice for manufacturing as TSMC continues to struggle with its own current 40nm production.  GF has shown test wafers of 28nm and 32nm in an attempt to get the industry as whole excited about the moves.  The target for GF is to be taking customer orders on 32nm in 2010 with 28nm not far behind – the company is even taking limited work with the 40nm bulk process this year.

Why GlobalFoundries?

This all begs the question of why; why would someone choose GlobalFoundries over the stalwart TSMC that has been getting the job done for years?  The answer has a few components, the most important of which is that GF has AMD as a customer.  AMD’s processor division demands the latest and most cutting edge process technologies to stay competitive with Intel and as such GF (and AMD before it) have had to continually innovate.  That devotion to continued process improvement (and rapid improvement at that) can thus be integrated with other customers as the AMD fab facilities manufacture for other customers. 

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Other factors include the GlobalFoundries APM initiative that uses incredibly complex software analysis of the fabrication process to tweak wafers on a bin by bin basis for improved performance and yields.  It is this automated process that has helped to keep AMD competitive with Intel’s much larger manufacturing budget and now others companies will have access to it as well.  Also, in particular for the move to 28nm technology in 2010+, GF’s work in 32nm SOI technology (again, for AMD) will be incredibly helpful as much of the work and libraries involved will match up evenly. 

Yet another reason GlobalFoundries is so excited about the 28nm generation.

Benefits for AMD/GlobalFoundries

Another question I get a lot when talking about GF and its current situation is why AMD would have spun off their manufacturing ARM and what benefits it entails.  The truth is that the development AMD was doing for CPUs was incredibly expensive and without a growing marketshare the cost would have grown to a degree that the AMD could no longer support.  Process technologies are getting more and more complex, with more and more research required to keep pace, and any profit that AMD hoped to make would be gobbled up.  By opening up the fabs to other customers GlobalFoundries can basically “double up” and re-use the R&D built for AMD with more technology companies and thus get additional revenue to hopefully turn a profit. 

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Fab 1’s automation system is impressive to see at work – all the numbered vehicles move about the factory transporting wafers from station to station

GF also saw an opportunity where the incredibly advanced technologies once only utilized on high performance processors will be needed in future chips and decided to fill this market before another foundry had the time to develop a solution.  While SOI likely won’t be utilized by many other customers than AMD any time soon, the options are there for anyone to (including GPU companies) to access this type of technology.

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