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RealTime IT News

AMD Goes On The Offensive

It may not be the largest chip maker, but AMD is working to capture the buzz of developers with next-generation product releases, many aimed at digital media for the home.

Following last month's news about a new plant in Germany, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company Thursday said it is establishing a new wholly owned subsidiary and more laboratories in Beijing, China to spread its development initiatives.

President and CEO Hector Ruiz traveled to Beijing this week to meet with senior Chinese government officials. The company said its new subsidiary -- Advanced Micro Devices (China) Co., Ltd. -- will serve as a centrally located service area for a wider range of business operations in the region. AMD said it will also consolidate management, staff and operations in China through the new subsidiary.

"China is quickly becoming an economic and technology leader," Ruiz said in a statement. "AMD is committed to supporting the growth of China's overall information technology market and strengthening our long-term, successful relationships with our customers and partners in China."

In coordination with BLX IC Design Corp., AMD's development facility will build products that offer customers new choices in thin client solutions.

AMD's other contract plans with China's Founder Group will establish a Platform Development Lab for information appliances beyond the PC market. That joint effort will initially focus on home digital media centers.

The AMD/BLX lab already has traction. A new BLX Thin Client RDK GSTB-3602 powered by BLX Godson-1 32bit low-cost processor is available now. A RDK GSTB-4001 version running on a 400Mhz AMD Alchemy Au1500 chip is planned to debut in January 2004. Both versions come complete with a Linux operating system (2.4.18 kernel) and are designed to be used for low-cost thin client, and network firewall/VPN for small office.

"Building on our plans for growth in the Chinese market, we are pleased to partner with BLX to deliver superior solutions to customers and increase visibility of China designs worldwide," AMD China corporate vice president Karen Guo said in a statement. "We look forward to a long-term relationship in China."

AMD's other venture with Founder will be more focused on the Chinese consumer market and finding out what kinds of things end users want in their computing experience.

As part of the contract, Founder will be providing supporting infrastructure, technical expertise and engineering staff among other things to the Lab, while AMD will focus on using its low-power Alchemy and set-top-box Geode processors. AMD will also bring its brand of development tools, products, dedicated engineering support, and reference design kits to the Lab.

"Working with Founder to establish the joint lab allows AMD to continue its own human-centric computing efforts and leverage Founder's market leadership to accelerate AMD Alchemy and AMD Geode Solutions into China," Guo said.

In other news, AMD this week said it is advancing its next-generation silicon-on-insulator (SOI) transistor design to reach the 45-nanometer process size. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

The company said its new transistor design uses three gates, instead of one as in today's transistors, and has the potential to shrink down to 20 nm and below. Company execs said the best part is that AMD's transistor is not dependent upon the use of so-called "high-k" gate dielectric materials, which have been shown to have negative effects on some aspects of transistor performance.

"Each time you shrink transistors in a new technology generation, it presents additional challenges. Reducing electrical leakage when the transistor is off is one challenge, but equally important is maximizing electrical flow when the transistor is on," said AMD Fellow Ming-Ren Lin.

"While research from other companies often addresses these challenges individually, AMD's approach is to address all of them as an integrated whole."

Currently, the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors forecasts that transistor gates, the primary parts of transistors that turn the flow of electricity on and off, will need to be as small as 20 nm in order to achieve performance projections for the 45 nm generation. Today, minimum gate lengths in the highest-performance microprocessors from AMD are approximately 50 nm.

Along those same lines, AMD (in concert with Fujitsu) said it is beefing up efforts to improve its Flash memory for wireless devices. The partnership known as FASL said it would increase production of its 110nm 128Mbit memory chips some 80 percent by the end of next year. The concern also said it will increase production of 110nm 128Mbit equivalent capacity chips by 60 percent. Products related to this subject include wireless, cellular, automotive, networking, telecommunications and consumer electronics markets.

The ramp up of AMD's 110nm technology is also expected to support AMD's Floating Gate, MirrorBit technologies, and a new simultaneous read-write (SRW) product families.

"The far-sighted decision taken back in 2001 to convert Fab 25 from a logic fab to a dedicated Flash memory Fab is validated by the ramp in output from this Fab and the solid execution supporting 170nm in 2002, 130nm today and 110nm technology in 2004," FASL president and CEO Bertrand Cambou said in a statement. "The inclusion of Fab 25 in FASL LLC together with JV1, JV2 and JV3 doubles our total capacity through 2004, establishing a manufacturing powerhouse in Flash memory in support of our customers' business growth."

The company said its 128Mbit equivalent output on 110nm and 130nm from Fab 25 is planned to grow 8-fold by end of year 2004 compared to last quarter.