Chip manufacturing race between Intel, ARM tightening

GlobalFoundries is making manufacturing technology advances that could help it catch up with Intel's manufacturing process by 2014

By , IDG News Service |  Hardware

GlobalFoundries plans volume production of chips on the 14-nm process by 2014, but Gorss could not comment on when customers would offer products based on those chips.

Intel declined to comment on GlobalFoundries' plans to implement 3D transistors on the 14-nanometer process by 2014.

Customers want more power-efficient devices, and GlobalFoundries' goal to advance to the 14-nanometer process by 2014 is possible, though it typically takes time to implement, said Bill McClean, president of IC Insights.

"Intel's trying to keep ahead of the game to outrun everyone," McClean said. "That is what it is coming down to in a smartphone-dominated world."

There's a big difference between simply offering 3D transistor technology and manufacturing chips in high volume based on the technology, McClean said. TSMC struggled with implementing 28-nm technology recently, and FinFET (also called 3D) is a brand-new transistor structure, which could take time to implement. Switching from 2D to a brand-new 3D transistor structure within a year is ambitious, McClean said.

"This is a quantum leap," McClean said.

But at the same time, the company has to offer the latest technology to attract customers for the long term.

"You need to be at the leading-edge technology in the foundry business. If you can't keep up ... there is no profit to be made there," McClean said.

GlobalFoundries was the third-largest contract manufacturer in terms of sales behind TSMC and United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) in 2011, according to IC Insights. The analyst firm is projecting GlobalFoundries to take the second spot from UMC by the end of this year.

But if GlobalFoundries achieves its 2014 goals, many customers will start using the company as their manufacturing source by 2014, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. Customers want long-term stability from contract manufacturers, Brookwood said.

Money also matters in the transition to a new process, Brookwood said. GlobalFoundries is investing billions of dollars in its factories and has access to funds from owner Advanced Technology Investment Co., which is part of the Abu Dhabi government's Mubadala Development investment arm.

GlobalFoundries is meeting the needs of customers and reacting quickly to Intel's aggressive push into mobile markets, Brookwood said.

"They needed to accelerate something," Brookwood said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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