Two years ago people scarcely believed there was room for a start-up in the pure-play foundry market, or that Malaysia was the right place to do it.
But Silterra Malaysia Sdn. Bhd. is the second company in as many months to prove the skeptics wrong. The Kulim-based semiconductor foundry said it has produced fully functional, yielding wafers on its 0.25-micron CMOS25 process and expects volume production early this year.
1st Silicon (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. said in November that its debut fab in Sarawak would also begin production in the first quarter.
Both projects are on schedule, but whether the timing is right remains to be seen. In December both Intel Corp. and Microchip Corp. delayed new fab construction, citing a slowdown in chip demand, while leading foundries reported factory usage below 100% for the first time in almost a year. Still others went forward with planned 300-mm-wafer plants.
Despite growing uncertainty surrounding the strength of key end markets, Semico Research Corp., Phoenix, believes the foundry environment remains strong, particularly for mainstream 0.25-micron designs.
"[The] 0.25-micron process is still in demand, and will continue to be for the next couple of years," said Joanne Itow, an analyst at Semico. "We're still on track for a pretty good year in 2001. It's just a matter of not going overboard with new capacity."
Silterra has already lined up several undisclosed top-tier customers to start production, according to Steve Della Rocchetta, vice president of sales and marketing. One of them, undoubtedly, is LSI Logic Corp., which provided its G11 0.25-micron and G12 0.18-micron processes to the new plant in exchange for up to half of the foundry's wafer output.
The process qualification brings Silterra "a step closer to our goal, which is to generate revenue for Silterra in the first quarter of 2001," said Cy Hannon, the foundry's chief executive.
Qualification silicon-which included a logic chip and a memory chip-demonstrated all of the CMOS25 process' features, including shallow trench isolation, low-resistance cobalt salicide, and five layers of metal with stacked vias. The logic chip contains more than 2.5 million transistors and measures 74.5 sq. mm. The memory chip, which is 26.4 sq. mm, contains 0.5 Mbit of high-speed SRAM, Silterra said.