GlobalFoundries Charters a New Course, Delays 32nm

September was a busy month for GlobalFoundries, the pure-play foundry AMD spun off earlier this year. For now, AMD remains the company's only customer; GF won't begin shipping STMicro products until the fall of 2010 at the earliest. Its current lack of customers hasn't deterred the company from thinking big, even as its slowed the pace on its 32nm process ramp. Earlier this month, ATIC (Advanced Technology Investment Company) announced its purchase of Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing (Chartered for short). Once the transaction is complete, ATIC will completely own Chartered while maintaining its own major stake in GlobalFoundries. The idea is to play to the strengths of both foundries. According to the PR: "The transaction will allow ATIC to build on the complementary platforms of Chartered and GlobalFoundries, with Chartered’s customer relationships and capabilities in both 8-inch and 12-inch fabrication, and GlobalFoundries’ advanced technology expertise, capacity profile and global footprint."

Chartered's main production facilities. More information on which fab is which is available here.

The two foundries currently have distinctly different foundry assets. GlobalFoundries' two fabs are referred to as Fab 1, Module 1 (aka Fab 36) and Fab 1 Module 2 (aka Fab 30/38). Both of these facilities produce 300mm wafers; both are scheduled for (or have completed) the migration from 65nm to 45nm technology. Until GF's Fab 2 comes online in 2011 or 2012, GF is somewhat limited in its ability to grow its business.

Enter Chartered. At present, Chartered is the 4th largest independent dedicated foundry, has six fabs open and supports a wide range of process technologies. It's not clear which of these ATIC may (or may not) choose to close or streamline, but the company's Fab 7 is capable of shipping up to 45,000 300mm wafers a month and supports a range of nodes from 130nm to 40nm. Even as ATIC moves to purchase Chartered, GlobalFoundries has been forced to push back its roadmap for 32nm introduction. Originally, GF was planning to tape out AMD's next-generation 32nm parts in the first quarter of 2010. That's since been pushed back by six months--32nm production is now set to begin in the third quarter of next year, or a little under a year from now.While it'll take some time to integrate the two companies, each should be able to benefit from the specialties of the other.

As for GF's 45/40nm bulk silicon, both the low-power and standard flavors have been pushed back into Q3 2010 as well, from an original Q2 early production prediction. Oddly, GlobalFoundries is still claiming that it'll begin working on 28nm bulk silicon production in Q4 of 2010, just three months after its repositioned risk production of 40/45nm bulk silicon is scheduled to begin. If you buy the optimism, AMD will then begin early work on a 28nm SOI flavor in Q1 of 2011.

GF, meanwhile, claims everything is business as usual. "Our roadmap for 32nm SOI has not slipped," according to a spokesman for the company. "Yes, the timeframe for introduction has been altered slightly to the roadmap we showed you in July, but that is not because of any issues with the technology. The roadmap has simply been adjusted to align with AMD's product needs...we have high confidence in our ability to demonstrate the same robust yields and manufacturing capability on 32nm that we have historically had."

If GF actually delayed 32nm introduction to "align" with AMD's product needs, it implies that AMD is either waiting to transition until it's 45nm technology is fully developed, or that Sunnyvale might be concerned about footing the bill. AMD still claims it will return to profitability in Q4--CEO Dirk Meyer may feel the company needs a few quarters in the black before it jumps for a new process.