SAN JOSE--The technology gap between pure-play silicon foundries and the world's largest semiconductor houses just got smaller, if not completely erased. Taiwan's UMC Group and strategic foundry customer Xilinx Inc. here today disclosed the fabrication of a 1-GHz field programmable gate array (FPGA) using a new 0.18-micron process technology.
The 0.18-micron technology was developed by UMC using a Xilinx prototype FPGA, which enabled the Hsinchu-based foundry company to accelerate its work on the next-generation process. UMC has already run test chips for handful of customers, according to company managers, and the 0.18-micron foundry services will be made available to other chip suppliers in the first quarter of 1999.
"By working together, we were able to completely close the gap," said Dennis Segers, vice president of FPGA development at Xilinx and general manager of the company's high-end FPGA business unit.
A year ago, San Jose-based Xilinx began working with UMC to develop the 0.18-micron technology after successfully collaborating on a 0.25-micron process. That quarter-micron technology moved UMC's most advanced foundry services within six months of some of the leading-edge integrated device manufacturers (IDMs), which operate their own fabs.
Most of the world's leading chip makers are now gearing up to start volume production with 0.18-micron processes by the second half of 1999. UMC's aggressive schedule appears to have put the pure-play foundry ahead of a few leading IDMs.
Xilinx is not disclosing when it will begin shipping a 1-GHz FPGA, using the 0.18-micron process technology, but Segers hinted that an introduction would be likely in the first half of 1999. Xilinx is now shipping a 75 million transistor FPGA, produced with a 0.22-micron process at UMC. The new 0.18-micron technology will enable Xilinx to offer FPGAs with as many as 150 million transistors, according to Segers.
UMC intends to introduce copper interconnect processing for the 0.18-micron technology in the third quarter of 1999, said Jim Ballingall, vice president of worldwide marketing at the UMC Group, based in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Separately, UMC and Xilinx also today announced the transfer of an advanced 0.22-micron process technology to the United Silicon Inc. wafer foundry, a joint venture between the two companies. The new single-poly, five-layer metal process is being used to produce Xilinx's Virtex series of FPGAs, which includes the 75 million transistor chip. Samples of the first Virtex FPGA chips became available in October. The entire nine-member family is slated to be available in early 1999.
UMC described its 0.22-micron process as a second-generation 0.25-micron technology. The process shrinks chip sizes for lower costs while maintaining 2.5-volt operation.
By partnering with Xilinx, UMC was able to bring the 0.22-micron technology to volume production early, said Frank Wen, president of USIC in Taiwan. "We believe that UMC Group is currently the only dedicated foundry with significant production volumes at 0.25 micron, and the only one offering a 0.22 micron process," said Frank Wen, president of USIC. "Our engineers continue to work closely with foundry partners such as Xilinx to meet their performance, yield, cost and time-to-market requirements."
UMC intends to continue to push aggressively ahead in the 0.18-micron generation and in the 0.15-micron technology, which has been under development since early this year, Ballingall said.