Global foundries’ plan for world domination

dr evilLast week I attended the Global Technology Conference, which sounds like something that the United Nations might sponsor but is, in fact, organized by Global Foundries.

Just in case you don’t remember who Global Foundries are, they are the old manufacturing arm of AMD which was spun out (partially, AMD still kept a share) and purchased by ATIC, a financial group based in Abu Dhabi. They since went on to purchase Singapore-based Chartered Semiconductor.

The first thing that surprised me about the conference was just how many people there were there, I’d estimate well over a thousand. There is clearly a lot of interest in the existence of a strong competitor to TSMC and Global seems to be the most likely candidate. They claim to be in the middle of the fastest volume process ramp for 40/45nm, using AMD’s microprocessor line as a yield driver.

Indeed, AMD announced two new microprocessors manufactured using Gobal’s 45nm node: Bulldozer and Bobcat.  Bulldozer is oriented to performance and scalability targeted at server farms. Bobcat is tailed for small die-size, low power targeted to portable devices. Both cores are complete re-designs.

A lot of Global’s strategy became clear from the presentations. They are clearly planning to be very aggressive at winning business at the 28nm and 22nm nodes. In fact I would go as far as to say they are “must win.” Abu-Dhabi may have deep pockets and are certainly investing freely, but eventually they will want to see serious profits coming back their way. They are investing a huge amount in process development and are building a big new fab (fab8) in Saratoga NY. They claim their process, which is high-K metal gate (HKMG) gate-first, is 15% more efficient that gate-last processes (take that, TSMC). But I’m not nearly enough of a process expert to have my own opinion. They are using ARM Cortex-A9 as a process driver, which they have already taped out. I’m guessing that because it is synthesizable, it is much easier to use as a process driver than an AMD design, which would otherwise be the expected choice.

Greg Bartlett, senior VP Technology and R&D, had some interesting perspective on what are the drivers of progress. Until about 60nm progress was almost all about improving lithography. That’s not to say that there wasn’t other development (copper interconnect, Hi-K dielectric etc) but the big breakthroughs were things like immersion lithography and double-patterning. Then a second driver came online, materials integration: strained silicon, HKMG. And from 32nm onwards 3D integration is going to be a 3rd big driver of value, driving density higher (although there are still some major power challenges to be addressed).

I was in a couple of meetings at DAC about 3D. One of the issues is the scale of the problem. There are a lot of separate problems that need to be solved from floorplanning (with multiple floors), simulating the entire stack of different interconnects, power and thermal analysis (and it’s not all bad, sometimes putting one die on top of another smoothes out hotspots since every die is also a heatsink), process issues (bumping etc) and all need to be solved pretty much simultaneously for it to be useful. It reminds me a bit of tape-automated bonding (TAB) which took much longer to come online than anyone expected for similar reasons. It’s hard to boil an ocean.


This entry was posted in semiconductor. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.