RealTime IT News

Globalfoundries Set to Announce First Customer

Globalfoundries, the spin-off semiconductor manufacturing plant made up of AMD's former operations in Germany plus an investment from Middle Eastern investors, will announce its first major non-AMD customer in the next 30 days, according to the company, with more to come.

Globalfoundries spokesman Jon Carvill could not disclose the client just yet, as the company is in the process of finalizing the deal, but he said it's "absolutely a name you'll know. The customers we're targeting are not small companies. They are top 10, top 20 fabless companies. We're not going after small fish here," he told InternetNews.com.

Also, the firm will begin construction next Friday, July 24, on its massive fabrication plant just outside of Albany, N.Y. The $4.2 billion facility is slated to open its doors to begin testing 28 nanometer products in summer 2011 and begin full operation with products at the 22 nm die size the following year.

Upstate New York may seem an odd place to put a fabrication plant, especially in light of the business flight from the state, but Globalfoundries had three good reasons to settle there, according to Carvill: one, the local government gave it a good tax incentive; two, IBM has a massive research facility nearby, and AMD is a partner in IBM's semiconductor alliance; and three, there are several important universities nearby that focus on chip research, including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, SUNY Albany and Hudson Valley Community College.

Who will have the most advanced semiconductor foundry?

In a recent blog post, Carvill declared that Fab 2, as the New York facility will be known, will be "the world's most advanced semiconductor foundry." Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) may have something to say about that, but for now, GF is doing its best to shake things up in the chip-making business.

One of the unique elements of Fab 2 is that Globalfoundries will work with major customers to do custom fabrication layouts, to give customers input on the production line. Shifting the production process is not easy, especially if customers have a mix of different die sizes. AMD, for example, has 65nm and 45nm CPUs but its ATI chips are 55nm and 40nm.

So rather than forcing customers to purchase a whole production lot of one type of design, Fab 2 will support customizing an order, so a customer can request multiple product characteristics (such as die size) and place one order for a variety of parts, instead of one big order for one type of part.

Globalfoundries' German plants will begin the migration to 32nm next year, while Intel is already making the migration. Carvill said the company is seeing real interest in 28nm, considered a "half-step" between 32nm and 22nm.

"At 28 nanometer, you get the performance benefits of 32 nanometer and things like high-k and metal gate, but you also get upwards of a 20 percent reduction of power," he explained.

"For some markets, like consumer electronics, they want performance and power efficiency. Because the two (32nm and 28nm) are so close from a production standpoint – there's maybe a 6 month gap between the two – so people just wait," he said.

Nathan Brookwood, research fellow withInsight64 thinks nVidia and AMD's graphics business are very likely to end up with Globalfoundries. After that? The company's success will be measured against the customers it signs up.

"Their strategy is to provide an environment where former integrated suppliers will feel comfortable and have an opportunity to work with Global the way they worked when they had in-house fabs," Brookwood told InternetNews.com. "If they signed a TI or STMicro, if one of those kind was to come along, that would validate their story."

Some firms have gone fab-less in recent years, unable to maintain the expenses of keeping their own fabrication plants up to date. Texas Instruments is one of the largest. It used to make UltraSparc chips for Sun Microsystems. Sun has since contracted with Taiwan's TSMC to make its processors, which may be seeing their final days.

Even without the New York facility, Brookwood said Globalfoundries will have the capacity to handle non-AMD business. "Germany [where the two plants are located] has the capacity. They only need part of one of those fabs to manufacture all the CPUs AMD is going to need," he said.