Who would have thought that just a couple short years ago one of the most interesting news stories we would hear about at Computex is about the expansion of manufacturing capabilities at a foundry company?  But that is definitely the case and not just because of the details of the press conference itself but because of the implications the information presented indicates for the future of our industry.

Today at an event occurring in the early hours of the first day of Computex 2010, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, once the manufacturing arm of AMD and now a completely independent and global foundry company, detailed expansion at both facilities in Dresden, Germany and in upstate New York.  Dresden, currently the drive behind the 45nm processors from AMD today and the upcoming 32nm Llano processors of 2011, will be receiving up to an additional $1.5 billion investment for a new addition to the corporate campus that will bring the total output from the facility to 80,000 wafer starts per month.  The focus of the new portion will start with 40nm technologies in Q3 of 2011 but will eventually transition to 28nm and below.  GLOBALFOUNDRIES is taking an aggressive stance to the construction of the facility in order to have it up and running in about 12 months in order to take advantage of the huge market opportunity for 40nm process customers that has been created by less than stellar yields and output from TSMC.

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Fab 1 in Dresden expansion plans

GLOBALFOUNDRIES CEO Doug Grouse also discussed an expansion to the upstate New York campus that will add an additional clean room to a facility that is still yet to have its initial construction completed.  The company plans to complete the shell of the addition during the current construction phase and then have it outfitted with production tools in early 2013.  The focus of this new addition in NY will be 22nm and 20nm technologies targeted for that time frame.  This new investment will be worth in excess of $2 billion when fully tooled and outfitted and will increase the wafer start capability to upwards of 60,000 per month. 

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Fab 8 in NY expansion plans

Finally, GLOBALFOUNDRIES is committing today to establish a semiconductor complex in Abu Dhabi, UAE on a 3km area of land near the international airport.  While the company is still leaving room for placing either a manufacturing facility or a research facility there (or both) GLOBALFOUNDRIES wouldn’t begin construction until the Dresden and NY projects are completely putting ground breaking at a time frame of 2012 or so.  The decision will be made on what type of facility to build will be based on customer demand and technology transitions of the time but this announcement will not apparent preclude any additional expansions to the NY fab campus over and above the ones announced today. 

GLOBALFOUNDRIES indicated that its 32nm SOI production was on schedule as were the rest of the technologies on the roadmap and even had some 28nm wafers on hand to display as the first foundry to show High-K metal gate at this process. 

The addition of $3.5 billion plus investment into the GLOBALFOUNDRIES production plans indicates two things to us.  First, the company continues to answer questions from critics about its ability to keep up with demand for process technologies into the future and its ability to handle the workloads associated with design wins for high profile customers.  Even with these additions TSMC will have the edge in total available output with the high performance technologies but the gap is closing and if nothing else GLOBALFOUNDRIES appears to be winning the PR/marketing war.  The addition in Dresden specifically for 40nm is particularly interesting because GLOBALFOUNDRIES originally had no plans for such a process but the demand from customers and the potential for sustainable profits apparently convinced them to develop it.  Interestingly, it was apparently too late to get AMD’s own Ontario 40nm Fusion part that will be built at TSMC later this year. 

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Based on the technologies that GLOBALFOUNDRIES is focusing and building capacity for, it is obvious to me that they are betting a large portion of their future capital on the world of SoCs and designs from ARM, etc.  Larger, high performance components from both AMD’s CPU and GPU design teams are going to be built with GLOBALFOUNDRIES (Llano on 32nm and the next gen on 28nm are already in the works) but the capacity being outfitted (and purchased through mergers) is targeted at lower power, smaller, mobile designs.  AMD’s own Fusion parts are heading that direction, as is Intel with Sandy Bridge and Atom processors, and we already know how dominant ARM has been in this field.  It is obvious that the market for consumer component-based designs is slowly fading into a smaller, more niche market as we get into the 2013 and 2014 time frames and designs for devices like cell phones and tablets are going to dominate.  Have we reached a consensus that we have enough performance for everyday computing and now we demand more than just “faster” out of our devices?  That is an editorial for another day…

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GLOBALFOUNDRIES has come from nothing to becoming a large player in the technology world in a very short time.  When AMD discussed its “asset light” goals some years ago it was hard to see the manufacturing division of the company becoming so large and so relevant this quickly.  They appear to have done it though and with fast paced and continued investments like the $4 billion discussed here today, the foundry market will continue to be interesting into the future.