Once known as a leader in semiconductor manufacturing innovation, Agere Systems Inc. has fully embraced the fab-less ASIC business model, saying last week it has tapped Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. to co-develop 90nm process technology and be its ASIC foundry.
Agere said its soon-to-be-released AGR90 ASIC Platform was developed using the Taiwanese foundry's NexSys 90nm technology as a base.
Agere began its fabless ASIC transition with the 0.13-micron node, and will outsource 100% of 0.13-micron and 90nm digital CMOS ASIC manufacturing, said Cindy Genther, marketing director for ASICs at the Allentown, Pa., company.
"We've chosen to invest our resources into IP development and support as opposed to process technology," Genther said. "The ability to integrate tens of millions of gates into a single piece of silicon alone will not get you to market more quickly. We decided to look at where can we give customers the most value."
It turns out Agere's greatest value is in its communications IP, she said.
The communications-centric AGR90 platform reduces time-to-market by offering IP that has been more comprehensively tested and validated than is customary in the ASIC market, according to Beth Logan, marketing manager for Agere's serializer/deserializer (SerDes) products. This can shave approximately six months off a customer's design time, Logan said.
The collaboration with TSMC is partly to spread out Agere's process R&D burden and partly to ensure a compatible alternate foundry source.
"Given Agere's financial status, I don't think they can afford to develop these processes on their own anymore," said Richard Wawrzyniak, an analyst at Semico Research Corp. in Irvine, Calif. "This might allow them to enter markets sooner than developing it in-house. Agere tends to have the kind of customers that demand and can use cutting-edge technology right from the day it becomes available."
Agere is offering external IP such as ARM processors alongside its own DSP, SerDes, and other 10Gbit/s protocols for the 90nm process. The company will offer pre-designed, semi-customized, or fully customized versions of certain cores to suit the design, Logan said.
Agere said it has begun quoting prices for the 90nm technology to customers and expects to start designs in the third quarter, with volume production next year.