HSINCHU, Taiwan -- The copper-processing race between silicon foundry companies here intensified today with United Microelectronics Corp. claiming that its technology partner, Xilinx Inc., is the first customer of a dedicated foundry to begin shipments of copper chips to system manufacturers.
UMC is also pushing hard to top its cross-town rival--Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC)--in copper-processing capacity this year. UMC expects to have the monthly capacity to process 60,000 layers of copper on 8-inch wafers by the end of 2000, said Jim Ballingall, vice president of worldwide marketing at UMC, who is based in Sunnyvale, Calif. That's more than the 40,000 layers of copper expected at TSMC by the end of the year, according to recent projection from TSMC managers.
San Jose-based Xilinx today said it has begun delivering samples of the industry's first copper-processed field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), which were fabricated with UMC's 0.18-micron technology using copper on the top two layers of interconnect. In addition to the copper metal, standard aluminum interconnect is being used on the lower layers of Xilinx's new series of Virtex-Extended Memory FPGAs, which are expected to ramp into volume production during the second half of 2000.
In mid-March, TSMC disclosed plans to ship its first all-copper interconnect ICs, based on a 0.15-micron technology, to development partner Altera Corp. of San Jose (see March 15 story). The TSMC-Altera partnership is battling the UMC-Xilinx alliance for a lead and bragging rights in the industry's movement from existing aluminum interconnects to copper as device geometries shrink below 0.18 micron. Earlier, Altera disclosed plans for a 0.13-micron all-copper chip by the end of 2000 (see Jan. 3 story).
Now, Xilinx is firing back with an announcement of shipping 0.18-micron copper products to its customers, including large telecommunications equipment makers. "When we say we are the first to market with a process technology and a certain gate capacity, it is available and shipping to our customers," asserted Bruce Weyer, senior director of marketing for high-end FPGAs at Xilinx. "The first device available in the EM Extended Memory family is the 812, and we are shipping that to customers based on standard forward leadtimes for delivery of parts after receiving orders. Our devices are fabricated, fully-functionally tested, assembled and we're now shipping devices."
The copper-processed XCV812E-6BG560 is based on Xilinx's Virtex-E FPGA architecture, which was launched last year with a 0.18-micron all-aluminum interconnect technology (see Oct. 18, 1999, story). Xilinx has packed slightly more than 1-megabit of RAM and 254,000 gates of user-programmable logic in the 812E FPGA. A second copper-processed FPGA is the 405E, which has 560 kilobits of RAM and 129,600 gates of logic. Xilinx is targeting the larger 812E at network processing, such as buffered crossbar switches, routers and Gigabit Ethernet systems, while the 405E device is expected to find its way into a range of video and imaging applications, including high-definition TV.
To show it and UMC are ready to begin deliver copper in high volumes later this year, Xilinx has set 812E pricing for quantities of 50,000 at $323 each in December 2000, and $235 each in December 2001. The 405E will sell for $127 each in December 2000 and $101 at the end of 2001, said Weyer.
"Our fabs are already demonstrating copper yields that are equivalent to our 0.18-micron aluminum process, and we project further improvements throughout the year," said Fu Tai Liou, chief technical officer at UMC in Hsinchu. "Our goal is to continue delivering the highest performance, most reliable copper process in the market so that our customers can begin migrating their designs to this advanced metal process technology today.
"Furthermore, we are rapidly moving forward to production qualify our all-copper, low-k 'Worldlogic' 0.13-micron technology later this year," added UMC's chief technologist, referring to the foundry company's copper-processing alliance with IBM Corp. and Infineon Technologies AG (see news coverage from Jan. 28).
UMC and Xilinx have been working together to ready the all-copper process as part of their two-year partnership in the technology. "We could have decided to put this Extended Memory series in all aluminum especially at 0.18-micron design rules, but the key thing here is that copper is the basis for all future development once you get to 0.13 and beyond," said Weyer of Xilinx. "At that point, we will not be using aluminum any more. It is important to get in early in the learning cycles. It keeps you ahead of the learning curve, which allows you to put products on the market quicker," he added.