SAN JOSE, Calif. In the face of stiff competition and a few lost customers, the company that invented the silicon foundry business model has become more aggressive in making its case as a technology leader.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. last week presented the first details of its 65-nanometer process technology for next-generation designs starting in late 2004. TSMC also became the latest chip maker to endorse strained-silicon technology for IC production at both the 90-nm and 65-nm nodes.
On the design side, TSMC said that it has beefed up its intellectual-property (IP) program and developed a design methodology based on the use of transistors with different voltage thresholds. The latter is available for customers of the company's latest 90-nm process technology.
The moves are part of a plan to remain at or ahead of the two-year process technology guidelines defined by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, said Jack Sun, senior director of logic technology at TSMC (Hsinchu, Taiwan).
"This is not just for bragging rights. We want to bring out the most advanced technology," Sun said in a keynote address at the TSMC 2003 Technology Symposium here.
The world's leading foundry supplier since the late 1980s now finds itself playing catch-up in the process technology race, said Bill McClean, president of IC Insights Inc., a market research firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. "IBM has the best technology in the world," McClean said. "In 90 nm, IBM is the leader from a technology standpoint right now." He ranked Intel "close or on par."
Among foundry players, McClean placed United Microelectronics Corp. third, behind IBM and TSMC. "I don't think TSMC is far behind [IBM]," he said. Intel Corp., the world's largest integrated device manufacturer, does not provide foundry services. But IBM Microelectronics is what some analysts call a "foundry IDM," making commercial silicon and providing foundry services as well.
In the foundry game for only about a year, IBM has already taken some business away from both TSMC and UMC. IBM has announced foundry alliances with two TSMC customers-Nvidia Corp. and Qualcomm Inc.-and has struck similar deals with two UMC accounts: Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Xilinx Inc.
Executives from TSMC denied that the company is losing ground to its competitors. The company's worldwide market share in the foundry business jumped from 40 percent in 2001 to 43 percent last year, said Rick Tsai, president of TSMC, during a keynote address at the San Jose conference.
In comparison, UMC's share fell from 21 percent in 2001 to 18 percent in 2002, Tsai said. Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing's share slid from 5 to 4 percent, he said, while IBM held steady at a meager 4 percent share in both years, according to Tsai.
The TSMC executive wasted no time criticizing competitors. "We are a dedicated foundry," he declared. "We will stay as a dedicated foundry. We do not want to compete against our customers."
-Mark LaPedus is editor of Semiconductor Business News, an EE Times Network Web site.