"Some have chosen [to] get out of semiconductor R&D and change their business model, but there is still tremendous semiconductor technology leadership here in the United States, both through the IBM Alliance and at Intel—obviously two key powerhouses for advanced semiconductor research and development," said Gary Patton, vice president for IBM's Semiconductor Research and Development Center.
IBM has an R&D budget of $6.2 billion, with more than 3,200 engineers and scientists supported by "more than 200,000 technical roles complementary to core research," according to Patton. Intel's R&D budget is similar, exceeding $6 billion, and its corporate technology group—Intel Research—includes more than 1,000 engineers and scientists, as well as thousands of technicians and support staff.
IBM and Intel both claim that U.S. semiconductor R&D is alive and well despite both the losses from commodity businesses, like DRAMs, and the United States' increasing dependence on offshore foundries. After all, Intel was the world's first chip maker to scale down to 45-nm high-k metal gate designs, proving that the U.S. system still works.
|FAMOUS FIRST: Intel developed its initial silicon laser chip with the University of California, Santa Barbara.|
"You can judge our health by the steady pace of the technology," said Justin Rattner, Intel chief technology officer. "We were able to make the transition to high-k metal gates literally without skipping a beat."
IBM, likewise, claims it has moved to 45 nm on schedule for its high-end server microprocessors, and it plans to make the transition at its other fabs in short order. However, to weather the high cost of deep submicron development, IBM has had to form an alliance, consisting of joint-development partners Advanced Micro Devices, Chartered, Freescale, Infineon, Samsung and STMicroelectronics.
What has changed is not the roadmap but the economic realities of chip manufacturing. As more semiconductor wafer processing moves offshore, more development responsibilities move along with it. Today, starting a new wafer fab can cost upward of $3 billion; to meet those types of investment realities, semiconductor makers like Texas Instruments (TI) have begun relying on their foundry partners to develop the processes that will allow scaling beyond 32 nm.
"Honestly, much of the process technology that has moved over to Taiwan has not been as a consequence of not making the investments, but more the economic realities of manufacturing—as goes the volume production, so goes where the technology should be developed and deployed," said Freescale's Bartlett.