SAN JOSE, Calif. – Texas Instruments Inc. has updated its leading-edge digital foundry strategy-and slammed Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.’s foundry efforts in the process.
For its current applications processor-the OMAP 4-TI has three foundry partners building the 40-nm device: Globalfoundries Inc., Samsung Electronics, and United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC).
Recently, TI rolled out the next-generation applications processor based on a 28-nm process, dubbed the OMAP 5. Taiwan’s UMC will take the ''lead role’’ in making the OMAP 5 device on a foundry basis for TI, said Kevin Ritchie, senior vice president and manager of TI's technology and manufacturing group.
For the OMAP 5, TI may work with other foundries, but Samsung does not appear to be one of the candidates. With the OMAP 4, TI has been ‘‘dissatisfied’’ with its foundry arrangement with Samsung, Ritchie said.
''We have not been pleased with the results’’ at Samsung, he told EE Times in a telephone interview.
Samsung has indeed built and shipped parts for TI. ''I can’t complain about the yields,’’ he said. ''I can complain about everything else.’’
He implied that Apple Inc. is taking an inordinate amount of time and attention away from Samsung’s foundry unit-a possible reason why TI is upset.
Apple is a huge customer for Samsung. As reported, Samsung is building Apple-designed processors for the iPhone and iPad on a foundry business for Apple. Samsung is adding a $3.6 billion addition to its fab in Texas, reportedly just for Apple. And Samsung is hiring 300 new fab engineers
for the plant.
Regarding Samsung’s future as a foundry partner within TI, Ritchie said TI will rely on Samsung to a ''lesser extent’’ at 45-nm. Samsung is ''off our radar at 28-nm,’’ he said.
Surprisingly, TI’s ''lead’’ OMAP 5 foundry partner is UMC. ''UMC, for us, is everything that Samsung is not,’’ he said. UMC ''does not get enough credit.’’
An e-mail to Samsung public relations officials was not returned. A call to Samsung was not returned by presstime.
Globalfoundries, Samsung and TSMC have announced their respective 32- and 28-nm processes and are not shy to talk about them. On the other hand, UMC has been eerily quiet in recent years. In various technical papers, Taiwan’s UMC has discussed its process technology, but it does not brag about it.
TI’s disclosure raises more questions about Samsung’s ambitions in the foundry business. For some time, the company claims it will be one of the biggest players in the business and is throwing money around in the arena.
Samsung has garnered several foundry customers, such as Ixys, Qualcomm, TI, Xilinx, among others. But according to the rankings, Samsung was only the world’s 10th largest foundry in terms of sales in 2010, behind the leaders by a wide margin, according to one research house.
There are now rumors
that Samsung’s biggest foundry customer-Apple-may work with rival TSMC on the A5 processor and follow-on devices. That could be a blow for Samsung and its foundry efforts. However, Samsung is fabbing the A5 processor
used in the Apple iPad 2, according to teardowns of the system and chip conducted by UBM TechInsights, a division of United Business Media, publisher of EE Times.
Regarding TI, the Dallas-based chip maker works with multiple foundries, such as Globalfoundries, Samsung, SMIC, UMC and others. TI and UMC are no strangers to each other. UMC was TI’s ''lead’’ foundry for its digital products at the 90-nm node. TI also worked with other foundries at that node.
At 65-nm, TSMC was the lead foundry for TI. TSMC is making ''high-performance’’ devices on a foundry basis for TI at the 40-nm node, Ritchie said.
At 45-nm, for the OMAP 4, TI relies on Globalfoundries, Samsung and UMC. At 28-nm, TI will work with UMC and others.
Like Taiwan rival TSMC, UMC is devising two options for its 28-nm process. One is a traditional polysilicon gate stack. The other is a high-k/metal-gate offering. Initially, TI plans to go with a polysilicon gate-stack technology for the OMAP 5.
TI is also evaluating foundry vendors for the 20-nm node. ''We have not finalized that yet,’’ he added. Globalfoundries, Samsung and TSMC have announced their respective 20-nm processes.