TAIPEI, Taiwan Chipmakers Advanced Micro Devices and Infineon Technologies AG are drawing closer to foundry United Microelectronics Corp. in a not-so-surprising move intended to tackle process development challenges at the deep sub-micron level, the companies said Tuesday.
The trio will pool resources to develop process recipes for the 65 nanometer and 45 nanometer technology nodes, in which they will face battles along multiple parts of the manufacturing line, from photolithography to dielectric materials selection. The platform will be 300mm wafers.
The deal advances previous research and development relationships in which UMC already served as the common denominator. The Taiwanese foundry is building a 300mm fab in Singapore with Infineon, called UMCi, which will tentatively start operations in 2003. The foundry also intends to run another 300mm wafer facility next door with AMD, a deal announced in January that will see chips roll in 2005 using 65nm design rules.
In both instances, UMC struck technology agreements with its partners that apply to the 130nm and 100/90nm technology nodes. In the case of AMD, UMC had also secured development for the 65nm and 45nm nodes. Infineon now joins that effort, which, in its early stages, will take place at UMC's Fab 12A in the Hsinchu Science Park.
This latest advancement is indicative of a fast-consolidating industry when it comes to R&D. The expenditures and engineering talent needed to overcome the colossal obstacles of both high-yield 300mm facilities and deep sub-micron technology look daunting. Only a few companies, such as Intel Corp, will choose to do it on their own.
"AMD's joint development work with UMC and Infineon is a prime example of the type of cooperation that will come to lead the semiconductor industry in the age of 300mm manufacturing," said Hector Ruiz, president and CEO of AMD, in a statement. "The effort with UMC and Infineon will form the foundation for AMD's 65 and 45 nanometer manufacturing technologies, and allow AMD to put additional development emphasis in process technology areas that are critical to our business and our customers, such as high-performance transistors and interconnects."
Other chipmakers are also circling the wagons. In February, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, Philips Electronics NV and ST Microelectronics said they would come together in a five-year development project to research and develop advanced CMOS processes, starting at the 90nm node and quickly moving to 65nm and beyond. Since then, they have been joined by Motorola and NEC.
About two weeks ago, ST also said it would team with UMC in a manufacturing and technology agreement that secures capacity for ST and pulls the two companies closer together in an effort to boost manufacturing efficiency on current products. The agreement was just a little more than a traditional foundry-customer relationship, but a bit less than a full-blown R&D alliance.
The strengthening of the cross-continental connection forged among AMD, Infineon and UMC should yield strong results. The Taiwanese and German chipmakers have experience in 300mm wafer fab ramp-ups and AMD will bring in its knowledge of high-performance transistor technology, a cross-pollination that will be favorable to UMC's numerous fables customers.
"We are well positioned to be the first semiconductor companies to deliver advanced nanometer technologies on 300mm wafers," said Robert Tsao, chairman of UMC.
In related news on Tuesday, UMC said it was scaling back its capital investment budget this year. The foundry plans on spending $1.3 billion, down from the $1.6 billion forecasted in the first quarter. TSMC did the same last week, cutting at least $500 million from its original budget of $2.5 billion.
Nevertheless, UMC said it "remains committed to spend in full the amounts originally budgeted for Fab12A (300mm wafer) capacity expansion and 130-nanometer copper modules." The cuts will impact capacity expansion plans in eight-inch wafer capacity for Fab 8F, the company said in a statement.