Business, Hardware

GlobalFoundries: future is bright, but can they do it

Previously, GlobalFoundries showed they were serious about ARM at TechCon3 in Santa Clara. They had a booth, a panel about new models for 28nm design, and we sat down with Jim Ballingall, VP of Marketing discuss to what their sales goals were for 2010.

On Wednesday, at the AMD Financial Analyst Day, Doug Grose, CEO of GlobalFoundries, and Bruce McDougall, CFO, gave an update on their progress to date. Grose gave a brief introduction about the company.

In October 2008, AMD [Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.] and the ATIC [Advanced Technology Investment Company] of Abu Dhabi announced the creation of a leading-edge global semiconductor manufacturing company to address the growing demand for independent, state-of-the-art foundry production capabilities. On March 2, 2009, that new company was officially launched as GlobalFoundries.

GlobalFoundries is introducing a new model for IDM (Integrated Device Manufacturing). This means more emphasis on collaboration between customers, engineers, and everyone involved on the fab side of the equation. In the past, almost all of the R&D was segmented so the customer would hand off a rigid set of specifications to the fab. Then the fab had to go back to the customer and explain why that was the hard way to do things. This back-and-forth process took a lot of time.

The new model for foundry business - Virtual IDM
GlobalFoundries introduce the new model for foundry business – Virtual IDM

"Virtual IDM" as Grose explained it, is an improvement of the process. The customer and the fab are working together much sooner in the idea phase of what the chip is going to do. There is join technology development each step along the way. This brings product to market sooner without as many cycles of expensive wafer modifications.

GlobalFoundries today
GlobalFoundries today – Doug did not explain does 55,000 wspm number counts Module 2 or not

Grose outlined the production capacity of GlobalFoundries as it stands today. Dresden Fab 1 is capable of 55,000 wafer starts per month. The facility is state of the art with 300 mm wafer manufacturing equipment which is designed to handle 45nm, 40nm, 32nm, and 28nm in two clean rooms dubbed Module 1 and Module 2. Module 1 is primarily handling SOI wafers for the main customer, while Module 2 is bringing up bulk wafer manufacturing for clients such as STMicroelectronics, ARM and more. New York Fab 2 Module 1 will begin production in 2012 and will have a capacity of 35,000 wafer starts per month.

When asked how Chartered Technologies of Singapore acquisition will fit into the mix, Grose said there is one more regulatory hurdle to complete and then the acquisition will be final. He said until that happens they will not discuss Chartered or any of its potential. Analyst speculation is that this will move GlobalFoundries into third position behind TSMC. Following the completion of acquisition, number of potential customers for advanced nodes in Fab 1 and Fab 2 will significantly increase and the timing could not be more proper – it is expected that all three major players in the entertainment industry [Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony] are "shopping for foundries." If GlobalFoundries signs contracts to keep Microsoft for next-gen Xbox and sign Nintendo, this would significantly increase the profile of the company. In our conversations with potential customers of GlobalFoundries we were warned about several issues and we’ll disclose them at a latter date.

GlobalFoundries Technology Strategy for 2010-2015
GlobalFoundries Technology Strategy for 2010-2015

GlobalFoundries strategy is to offer chip customers three levels of power and performance based on 45nm, 40nm, 32nm, 28nm, and 20/22nm over the next four years. Grose explained that the turn down in the economy made many chip customers hesitant to bypass 40nm because it is a proven process. The AMD-Dresden fab had shipped more 40nm wafers than anyone else.

GlobalFoundries used that legacy knowledge base to capture their first customer, STMicroelectronics [ST], European semiconductor manufacturing giant. ST will partner with GlobalFoundries to produce products based on 40nm Low Power [LP] bulk silicon technology. The 40nm LP process is ideal for the next generation of wireless applications, handheld devices, and consumer electronics, which require excellent performance and long battery life. First tape out and production of ST products by GlobalFoundries is planned to start in 2010.

STMicroelectronics announced in late October that they had partnered with ARM to use the Cortex-A9 MPCore processor and Mali 400 graphics processor in future SoC [system-on-chip] for digital and non digital TV settop boxes.

GlobalFoundries 28nm SoC ecosystem - unique advantage for potential customers
GlobalFoundries 28nm SoC ecosystem – unique advantage for potential customers

Grose also went over their partnership with ARM that will initially focus on enabling SoC products which use the low power and high performance ARM Cortex-A9 processor on GlobalFoundries? 28nm/22n
[high-k metal gate] process.

In June, GlobalFoundries demonstrated its first 22nm EOT [equivalent oxide thickness] in a HKMG transistor capable of scaling down to the 22nm node while maintaining low leakage, low voltages, and superior carrier mobility. Such technology will enable continued VLSI semiconductor scaling to the 22nm node, and likely beyond. The 22nm process node is just unbelievable. It?s just 25 percent the size of the current 45nm node used by both AMD and Intel today.

During the AMD panel discussion, a question was asked by Nathan Brookwood, Principal Analyst at Insight 64, about tape out for the 32nm Bobcat and Bulldozer CPU’s. Three of the participants mumbled a confirmation that the tape out had taken place. This means that another of GlobalFoundries 2009 milestones has been achieved.

Grose took questions from the audience. We asked McDougal if GlobalFoundries would publish their financial statements. He said that as a private company they probably would not. Later in the day, we asked Thomas Seifert, AMD CFO,  if AMD would still continue to use "AMD Consolidated" in their quarterly results [AMD started reporing a consolidated financial report format that includes GlobalFoundries]. He said AMD is part owner of GlobalFoundries, with an equal number of voting members on its board of directors. Therefore, their equity stake in GlobalFoundries would remain an asset on AMD?s financial statements. The question remains will AMD Consolidated financial report include Chartered Semiconductor after that acquisition is complete.

Overall, we were impressed by the successes GlobalFoundries has accomplished in less than three-quarters of a year. When Chartered Technologies comes on board the speed of evolution should go up several notches. If GlobalFoundries can successfully integrate all that fab capacity and personnel, they just may rattle TSMC and Intel to their foundations. The only real danger for GlobalFoundries is the state of relationship between sales and PR staff with the customers and media, especially in the light of recent ousting of GlobalFoundries’ Chairman, Hector Jesus Ruiz [over the allegations of insider trading].

Note: Theo Valich contributed to reporting.