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Sun decides TI's not so ab fab

Bring us TSMC

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Sun Microsystems' long, wafer-wrapped embrace with TI will start coming to a close. Earlier today, Sun announced that TSMC will manufacture future versions of its UltraSPARC processors.

TI will hang on as Sun's foundry through the 65nm generation of processors, which includes Sun's upcoming Rock server chip. TSMC will then step in at 45nm to produce Sun's chips and has vowed to make 32nm processors as well. At 45nm, TI will continue to test and package Sun's chips, but TSMC looks set to take over all of those duties come 32nm.

Sun's shift to a vendor like TSMC was inevitable given TI's reluctance to pour funds into next-generation chip plants capable of dealing with Sun's complex server processors.

The long-standing relationship with TI benefited Sun. The two companies were close allies and shared in the burden and rewards of making the UltraSPARC chips. Sun must now hope that TSMC, which serves numerous clients, will afford Sun a similar, favored status.

We're guessing that TI will hang around for the 45nm packaging, since Sun has some complex designs in store. It should be pumping out second generation Rock chips on 45nm that include face-to-face interconnect technology.

Rather optimistically, Sun also pitched the TSMC deal as a win for its OpenSPARC efforts. Sun has once again freed up its microelectronics team as a separate business unit, and the chip folks have been trying to tempt other companies to build processors around Sun's designs. Sun has open sourced the design of its UltraSPARC T1 and T2 chips and may well open source Rock.

"As part of today's announcement, both Sun and TSMC will collaborate to expand Sun's OpenSPARC program," Sun said. "In the first phase of the program the two companies will work together to expand the university outreach program in Taiwan."

Researchers at the University of Texas, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, University of Illinois, University of Michigan and University of California are all experimenting with the OpenSPARC program. ®

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