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AMD's former chip arm to bake Qualcomm wafers

GlobalFoundries lands third customer

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AMD's former chip manufacturing arm GlobalFoundries has inked its third customer for its wafer baking operations: wireless chip-maker Qualcomm.

Qualcomm said it would be submitting masks to GlobalFoundries sometime this year that make use of the wafer baker's 45 nanometer low-power processes - current Fab 1 - with an eye toward the future 28 nanometer low-power tech. Presumably this will be Fab 2, but there were no more details.

Qualcomm said that it would be creating chips to run through GlobalFoundries that support the CDMA2000, WCDMA, and 4G/LTE cellular standards, including the hot smartbook segment that really gets underway this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

GlobalFoundries and Qualcomm also agreed to collaborate on die-package integration and 3D chip packaging technologies, the latter of which might help reduce the size of devices and their electric consumption.

Qualcomm likes to have a number of different foundries for its chips because, as the long history of the chip business shows, every fab screws up badly once in a while. Moreover, Qualcomm distributes its business around the globe.

Qualcomm has used Chartered Semiconductor in Singapore, IBM in the US, Samsung in Korea, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation in China, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) in Taiwan to make its devices over the years. Significantly, AMD itself still uses TSMC to make its ATI graphics chips, attesting to how tightly integrated fabs, their processes, and design tools really are and how difficult it is to switch fabs.

By virtue of the $3.9bn takeover of Chartered by Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC) last September, Qualcomm was in a sense already a customer of GlobalFoundries. ATIC is in the process of merging Chartered's fabs into its own.

Qualcomm joins AMD and STMicroelectronics (STM) on the GlobalFoundries' customer list. AMD makes its Turion, Athlon, and Opteron families of x64 processors and chipsets in the Dresden, Germany, fabs.

GlobalFoundries' second customer, announced back in September 2009, was STM. STM plans to use ATIC's Fab 1 facility in Dresden, employing 40 nanometer low-power bulk processes to make wireless devices, handheld devices, and consumer electronics this year.

Fab 1 currently uses 300mm silicon wafer technologies and has 45 nanometer processes in volume, which are used to make AMD's x64 chip lineup. Fab 1 is ramping up 32 nanometer technologies right now in preparation of the launch of the Magny-Cours Opteron 6000 12-core chips, due at the end of this quarter. The $4.2bn facility that ATIC broke ground on last March in upstate New York, dubbed Fab 2, uses 300mm wafers and will initially support 28 nanometer processes, moving on down to 22 nanometer production in 2012.

In a separate development, meanwhile, Reuters is reporting rumors coming out of the Chinese Economic Daily paper that indicate ATIC has approached Taiwanese chip maker United Microelectronics Corp for a possible stake in UMC.

While the news helped pump up UMC's shares by 2.5 percent, another report in EETimes has ATIC denying the rumors.

"There's nothing to it," Brian Lott, a spokesperson for ATIC, told EETimes. "ATIC's priority is making sure GlobalFoundries, with the integration of Chartered Semiconductor of Singapore, is off to a smooth start." ®

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