Taking a Fresh Look at GLOBALFOUNDRIES

GLOBALFOUNDRIES continues to move forward despite flubs

It has been a while since we last talked about GLOBALFOUNDRIES, and it is high time to do so.  So why the long wait between updates?  Well, I think the long and short of it is a lack of execution from their stated roadmaps from around 2009 on.  When GF first came on the scene they had a very aggressive roadmap about where their process technology will be and how it will be implemented.  I believe that GF first mentioned a working 28 nm process in a early 2011 timeframe.  There was a lot of excitement in some corners as people expected next generation GPUs to be available around then using that process node.

Fab 1 is the facility where all 32 nm SOI and most 28 nm HKMG are produced.

Obviously GF did not get that particular process up and running as expected.  In fact, they had some real issues getting 32 nm SOI running in a timely manner.  Llano was the first product GF produced on that particular node, as well as plenty of test wafers of Bulldozer parts.  Both were delayed from when they were initially expected to hit, and both had fabrication issues.  Time and money can fix most things when it comes to process technology, and eventually GF was able to solve what issues they had on their end.  32 nm SOI/HKMG is producing like gangbusters.  AMD has improved their designs on their end to make things a bit easier as well at GF.

While shoring up the 32 nm process was of extreme importance to GF, it seemingly took resources away from further developing 28 nm and below processes.  While work was still being done on these products, the roadmap was far too aggressive for what they were able to accomplish.  The hits just kept coming though.  AMD cut back on 32nm orders, which had a financial impact on both companies.  It was cheaper for AMD to renegotiate the contract and take a penalty rather than order chips that it simply could not sell.  GF then had lots of line space open on 32 nm SOI (Dresden) that could not be filled.  AMD then voided another contract in which they suffered a larger penalty by opting to potentially utilize a second source for 28 nm HKMG production of their CPUs and APUs.  AMD obviously was very uncomfortable about where GF was with their 28 nm process.

During all of this time GF was working to get their Luther Forest FAB 8 up and running.  Building a new FAB is no small task.  This is a multi-billion dollar endeavor and any new FAB design will have complications.  Happily for GF, the development of this FAB has gone along seemingly according to plan.  The FAB has achieved every major milestone in construction and deployment.  Still, the risks involved with a FAB that could reach around $8 billion+ are immense.

2012 was not exactly the year that GF expected, or hoped for.  It was tough on them and their partners.  They also had more expenses such as acquiring Chartered back in 2009 and then acquiring the rather significant stake that AMD had in the company in the first place.  During this time ATIC has been pumping money into GF to keep it afloat as well as its aspirations at being a major player in the fabrication industry.

The current (and upcoming) lineup of products from GLOBALFOUNDRIES.

To say that things looked grim is an understatement.  During this time Intel was able to mass produce 22 nm bulk silicon with HKMG and the new Tri-Gate transistors.  GF’s primary competitor, TSMC, was also able to roll out their 28 nm HKMG line which was the basis for the latest generation of graphics processors from AMD and NVIDIA, not to mention a new generation of ARM based SOCs that made their way into countless cell phones.  The roadmaps that GF presented to us back in 2009 were far too optimistic.

So what was good about business during this time frame?  They did achieve good results at 32 nm with their HKMG/SOI product.  They continued to ship wafers from all of their fabs around the world.  They have a healthy mix of product lines to offer the industry at competitive prices.  ATIC still believes in their future plans to be competitive against the best in the industry.


2013 and Beyond

It would be easy to think that GF would be doomed considering its track record since it split from AMD in March of 2009.  On the surface this looks to be the case, but once we dig a little deeper we see that things are not nearly as grim.  GF is now the second largest independent semiconductor foundry operator, after TSMC.  I believe Intel has more clean room space, but they only contract out to limited partners as compared to TSMC and GF.  ATIC is the biggest reason that GF is still on their feet, and that technology based financial group is betting on chip production being a major mover in the years to come.  GF has also announced plans to build a future Fab in Abu Dhabi, but that has been put on hold until the company can improve its bottom line.

There have been some significant breakthroughs with the company as of late which cast a much more positive light on business.  GF has been shipping 28 nm HKMG wafers to customers throughout this year, and we saw some of their first customers with that line introduce fully functional products.  The first in my memory is a quad core ARM Cortex A9 SOC from Rockchip.  This is a very important customer, as they are one of the largest producers of SOCs in China.  Their order is hugely important for GF, and GF has been able to produce wafers in quantities good enough to attract more customers.

Fab 8, where a lot of the exciting development will be happening.  Fully operational, but not fully ramped at this time.

Fab 8 located in Luther Forest, NY is now fully operational.  It is not fully ramped, but will be by the end of 2013.  The first node being produced there is the 32/28 nm HKMG product, but it will start to transition quickly to 20 nm as well.  Dresden (Fab 1) is also producing a mix of 45/40 nm and 32/28 nm in those two modules.  Fab 1 can sustain around 80K wafer starts a month (two modules) while Fab 8 can move up to 60K wafer starts a month.  GF is reporting that yields are class leading and that they are meeting all of their supply commitments at near 100% at these advanced process nodes.  The company has shipped over 750,000 HKMG based wafers (both bulk and SOI) so far.

GF is part of the Common Platform Group, which was co-founded by IBM’s fabrication arm.  Samsung is also a part of this group, and a few weeks back they held a symposium on where the group is going in terms of technology.  Between the three fabrication partners, they probably have as much clean space as Intel.  We also know that IBM has been a leader in research and development of advanced process technologies.  The three talked extensively about next generation process technology and what kind of timeline they were looking at in terms of implementation.

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