LONDON – Mike Bryant, technology analyst with Future Horizons Ltd. has said that foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. is in trouble with its 28-nm manufacturing process technologies, which are not yet yielding well. Bryant referenced un-named contacts made with multiple companies waiting for designs to be produced by TSMC on 28-nm processes.
Bryant said that there are 10 designs in manufacture from seven companies. "We're now hearing none of them work; no yield anyway," he told an audience at a one-day market forecast conference organized by Future Horizons, here on Thursday (Jan. 19). "Ten designs going through; we have heard about problems on six of them," Bryant added. Bryant's comments echo those made by Bob Johnson, research vice president at market research firm Gartner in November 2011.
However, Bryant's description of the situation at TSMC is quite different to that of the company's CEO and chairman Morris Chang. Speaking to analysts about TSMC's fourth quarter financial results on the previous day, Chang said: "Our 28-nm entered volume production last year and contributed 2 percent of 4Q11's wafer revenue. Defect density and new progress is ahead of schedule and is better than 40-45-nm at the corresponding stage of the ramp-up. We expect 28-nm ramp this year to be fast and we expect 28-nm will contribute more than 10 percent of total wafer revenue this year."
Nonetheless Bryant of Future Horizons asserted that Intel has a clear technology leadership position as it has been running 32-nm manufacturing process for some time and that pressure to keep up with Intel had caused some miss-steps by TSMC, while Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., with experience gleaned running 20-nm class memories, had successfully brought up its 28-nm low power logic process.
In contrast, TMSC is in a similar situation to Globalfoundries Inc. which saw problems with its 32-nm/28-nm processes in 2011 that appeared to drive its primary customer, Advanced Micro Devices Inc., towards TSMC as a source of integrated circuits. Bryant acknowledged that the TSMC 28-nm process is now in true volume production and the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 has won the highest proportion of available design slots. "However, there are recent comments of major yield problems with their 28-nm process actually being even worse than at GF [Globalfoundries]," Bryant told the audience.
Intel's lead in process technology has put foundries under pressure, Bryant said. The 18-month to two-year time scales needed to develop processes, and design complex ICs mean that both are being begun before the other is completed and stable. While that process can be managed in-house by an IDM such as Intel, foundries are finding it more difficult as they have to work with customers on chips and physical design kits at the same time.
"People whine about foreign oil but foreign monopoly on chip production is just as big a threat."
You make an excellent point; I believe INTC's (surprise) increase in capex is probably geared towards 450 mm wafer processing and quoting the "Godfather" Intel might make Apple an offer they can not resist. 2011 was very unique year exposing risks related to offshore outsourcing.
I can think of Apple and Intel working together to create a best of breed SoC (manufactured at 450 mm). IMHO too many US based fabless chipmakers are competing for advanced technology capacity. An usually a foundry process is more or less a one size fits all process - it's probably good but not as perfect as it could be finetuning all parameters for one specific customer.
Yield data is usually top secret info but TSMC is ramping up BIG time (for TSMC standard) in
Q1 2012 - however TSMC added almost no additional 300 mm capacity in second half of 2011 according to TSMC quarterly report:
According to latest quarterly report TSMC added 92 units of 300 mm wafer starts in 2011; in Q1 2012 alone TSMC is adding 71 units of 300 mm wafer starts (Fab 12, Fab 14).
So TSMC is playing catch up but according to ASML who keeps excellent track of what is going on at customer base TSMC's capacity additions for 28nm are far away from what would be required to make 28nm main stream.
So I would not write off TSMC prematurely but I just can't see someone like Apple continue to depend on TSMC when 450 mm becomes mainstream.
And Samsung is becoming more and more a competitor for Apple.
Apple picked up a "ton" of WiFi related IP from Freescale over the last six months or so - obviously it's patented but would you be comfortable to disclose this kind of knowledge with someone like Samsung who is direct competitor?
I certainly would not.
Jun 6, 2011 – Intel CFO Stacy Smith is on record saying that combining other chip design IPs with Intel's architecture core "would be fantastic business for us. ...
450mm is a cost reduction measure that squeezes more die on a wafer. It has nothing to do with "technology" leadership. It's the transistor dimensions and die size that are important. 22nm & 14nm will be on 300mm before they bring up 450mm.
Well, if TSMC can't make a lot of good 28nm dice, then that probably explains why AMD's cancelled most of their 28nm Fusion products (Deccan/Wichita, etc.). Better to use them to make high ASP GPUs than low-ASP APUs.