Transmeta says TSMC is second ‘primary supplier’

Ends IBM fab exclusive

Updated Transmeta has signed the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company as its 'second source' chip maker. The deal ends IBM's role as exclusive Crusoe churner.

Dave Ditzel, Transmeta's CEO, let slip news of the deal at the Banc of America Securities' Technology Week sessions, held in San Francisco this week.

Now we were a little puzzled by this, since we'd heard TSMC had become a Transmeta partner some time ago. Indeed, the foundry claimed it was sampling Crusoe CPUs last May.

Of course, that may simply have been TSMC showing off how it had been courting the chip designer. More likely, it's now being brought up alongside IBM as one of Transmeta's key suppliers.

The reason? According to Ditzel, it's just because customers demand it. "Customers like second sources. It's just safety," he told reporters.

Certainly, the company seems happy with IBM. Said Ditzel: "We've got a great relationship with IBM. They've done a spectacular job for us and they've actually got a team of people in Vermont dedicated to supporting Transmeta. We're getting all the capacity we need on among their most advanced technology."

Then again, IBM did drop Crusoe for Intel's Ultra-low Voltage Pentium III when it was designing its latest slimline ThinkPad for the Japanese market. That must have galled Ditzel and co., since the 500MHz Chipzilla part is arguably neither as fast nor efficient as their own chip. Of course, IBM's notebook division is not connected with its foundry - they'd all be running on PowerPC, otherwise - so it seems unlikely that Transmeta signed TSMC out of spite.

Ditzel said he expects TSMC to begin delivering wafers during the first half of 2001, which is a pretty wide window in anyone's diary. IBM will continue to punch out Crusoes, and Transmeta will "adjust the mix depending on availability and pricing".

Transmeta is expected to take the Crusoe 5x00 family up to 1GHz this year, keeping power consumption low through 0.15-0.23 micron wiring, a silicon-on-insulator process and the second generation of the company's LongRun power-management technology.

The company clearly reckons demand will rocket, and while IBM has been able to meet demand so far, Transmeta wants some extra capacity, particularly while shifting down to .13 micron. It's not hard to imagine IBM continuing to churn out the current, highest volume parts, while TSMC comes in to supply the limited volume high-end chips.

Coincidentally - or maybe not - TSMC this week announced its Black Diamond .13 micro low-k dielectric copper processing technology, co-developed with Applied Materials. TSMC said it had already proved the process with pilot contracts from ten chip companies, some of whom "specialise in microprocessors". Any guesses who that might be?

Pilot production will begin in late Q2 this year, which nicely fits in Ditzel's timeframe. ®

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