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IBM rumoured to be building 65nm fab for AMD

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Is IBM building a 300mm, 64nm fab for AMD? Yes, if rumours doing the rounds are to be believed, Silicon Strategies reports.

It's claimed that IBM is converting its Advanced Semiconductor Technology Center (ASTC) in East Fishkill, New York State into a production fab. When it's finished its work, IBM will hand the plant over to AMD, and AMD will use it to churn out 65nm Athlons and Opterons.

Why would IBM go to the expense of re-kitting out a fab only to give it away to AMD? The technology co-development deal struck between the two companies in January, that's why. Both companies are currently co-operating on the design of 65nm and 45nm chip fabrication processes based on 300mm wafers.

Both companies favour the use of silicon-on-insulator techniques, copper interconnects and low-k dielectric materials, and have both separately dedicated much research to these approaches.

Last month, for instance, AMD announced it had figured out how to get a 30 per cent performance boost out of SOI, using 'fully depleted' SOI films within each transistor - a major step toward the 'perfect' SOI transistor.

IBM, meanwhile, has been pursuing 'strained' silicon - in effect adding a lattice of silicon and germanium to the transistor's silicon layer in order to improve its ability to conduct an electrical current. IBM reckons this improves chip performance by up to 35 per cent.

Both companies are likely to want to incorporate such innovations in the joint fab development work where possible.

Co-operation of this kind is inevitable, such is the ballooning cost of cramming ever more transistors on a chip die. In the 1990s, IBM partnered with Motorola and Apple on the development of PowerPC. It's currently working with Sony and Toshiba on the Cell massively multi-processing chip. The AMD deal is a logical extension of this trend, particularly given the two companies' shared interest in SOI etc.

The joint 65nm and 45nm work is taking place at IBM's Semiconductor Research and Development Center also in IBM's East Fishkill, NY facility - in other words, just around the corner from the AMD fab IBM may (or may not) be building.

Given the timeframe for products based on the joint fabrication technology - some time in 2005 - IBM may well want to start work on a production fab now, whether the plant is destined for AMD or not.

More likely, IBM will use the plant itself or - and this is our gut feeling - use it on AMD's behalf. At AMD's Opteron launch last month, AMD CEO Hector Ruiz, when asked if the company was considering outsourcing high-end chip production, denied that that was the plan, but noted that if it became necessary to do so, IBM was the logical partner. Such a deal may now have been struck, independently or on the back of the co-operation deal announced in January.

The terms of the January deal allows each company to use the results of their joint research in their own fabs, and those of their manufacturing partners. It would save a lot of hassle if IBM simply became an AMD manufacturing partner. ®

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Silicon Strategies: Is IBM building a fab for AMD?

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