The day after Intel had its Technology and Manufacturing expo in China, GLOBALFOUNDRIES kicks off their own version of the event and has made a significant number of announcements concerning upcoming and next generation process technologies. GF (GLOBALFOUNDRIES) had been the manufacturing arm of AMD until it was spun off as its own entity in 2009. Since then GF has been open to providing fabless semiconductor firms a viable alternative to TSMC and other foundries. Their current 14nm process is licensed from Samsung, as GF had some significant issues getting their own version of that technology into production. GF looks to be moving past their process hiccups in getting to FinFET technologies as well as offering other more unique process nodes that will serve upcoming mobile technologies very well.
The big announcement today was the existence of the 12LP process. This is a "12 nm" process that looks to be based off of their previous 14nm work. It is a highly optimized variant that offers around 15% better density and 10% better performance than current 14/16nm processes from competing firms. Some time back GF announced that it would be skipping the 10nm node and going directly to 7nm, but it seems that market forces have pushed them to further optimize 14nm and offer another step. Regular process improvement cadences are important to fabless partners as they lay out their roadmaps for future products.
12FP is also on track to be Automotive Grade 2 Certified by Q4 2017, which opens it up to a variety of automotive applications. Self-driving cars are the hot topic these days and it appears as though GF will be working with multiple manufacturers including Tesla. The process also has an RF component that can be utilized for those designs.
There had been some questions before this about what GF would do between 14nm and their expected 7nm offering. AMD had previously shown a roadmap with the first generation Zen being offered on 14nm and a rather nebulous sounding 14nm+ process. We now know that 12LP is going to be the process that AMD leverages for Zen and Vega refreshes next year. GF is opening up risk production in 1H 2018 for early adopters. This typically means that tuning is still going on with the process, and wafer agreements tend to not hinge on "per good die". Essentially, just as the wording suggest, the monetary risks of production fall more on the partner rather than the foundry. I would expect the Zen/Vega refreshes to start rolling out mid-Summer 2018 if all goes well with 12LP.
RF is getting a lot of attention these days. In the past I had talked quite a bit about FD-SOI and the slow adoption of that technology. In the 5G world that we are heading to, RF is becoming far more important. Currently GF has their 28FDX and 22FDX processes which utilize FD-SOI (Fully Depleted Silicon On Insulator). 22FDX is a dual purpose node that can handle both low-leakage ASICs as well as RF enabled products (think cell-phone modems). GF has also announced a new RF centric process node called 8SW SOI. This is a 300mm wafer based technology at Fab 10 located in East Fishkill, NY. This was once an IBM fab, but was eventually "given" to GF for a variety of reasons. The East Fishkill campus is also a center for testing and advanced process development.
22FDX is not limited to ASIC and RF production. GF is announcing that it is offering eMRAM (embedded magnetoresistive non-volatile memory) support. GF claims that ic an retain data through a 260C solder reflow while retaining data for more than 10 years at 125C. These products were developed through a partnership with Everspin Technologies. 1Gb DDR MRAM chips have been sampled and 256Mb DDR MRAM chips are currently available through Everspin. This technology is not limited to standalone chips and can be integrated into SOC designs utilizing eFlash and SRAM interface options.
GLOBALFOUNDRIES has had a rocky start since it was spun off from AMD. Due to aggressive financing from multiple sources it has acquired other pure play foundries and garnered loyal partners like AMD who have kept revenue flowing. If GF can execute on these new technologies they will be on a far more even standing with TSMC and attract new customers. GF has the fab space to handle a lot of wafers, but these above mentioned processes could be some of their first truly breakthrough products that differentiates itself from the competition.