Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Monday, November 19, 2018
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GlobalFoundries Drops 7nm Development Program 

Source: GlobalFoundries

Under the new leadership of CEO Tom Caulfield, custom semiconductor manufacturer GlobalFoundries has announced the seemingly sudden decision to drop its 7nm FinFET development program and restructure its R&D teams to support what the company calls its “enhanced portfolio initiatives.” In part, this will result in a workforce reduction of approximately 5 percent (of roughly 18,000 employees), though GlobalFoundries said “a significant number of top technologists will be redeployed on 14/12nm FinFET derivatives and other differentiated offerings.”

Seven nm, of course, is the new frontier in the emerging campaign AMD has mounted against Intel in the highly coveted data center server processing market, and while AMD is GlobalFoundries’ biggest customer, AMD is relying on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) for its 7nm chips. Intel, meanwhile, recently announced that its 10nm chip (roughly equivalent to AMD’s 7nm) won’t be available until 2020.

To be sure, GlobalFoundries (GF) and AMD are not cutting ties. On Monday, AMD CTO Mark Papermaster posted a blog in which he stated the company will "continue to have a broad partnership with GlobalFoundries spanning multiple process nodes and technologies. We will leverage the additional investments GlobalFoundries is making in their robust 14nm and 12nm technologies at their New York fab to support the ongoing ramp of our AMD Ryzen, AMD Radeon and AMD EPYC processors."

GF said it is realigning its FinFET semiconductor roadmap to serve the next wave of clients that will adopt its 14/12nm FinFET platform, designed for high-performance, power-efficient SoCs, delivering a range of IP and features including RF (radio frequency), embedded memory, low power, among others.

“Demand for semiconductors has never been higher, and clients are asking us to play an ever-increasing role in enabling tomorrow’s technology innovations,” said Caulfield, who was named CEO last March, in a prepared announcement.

Dr. Thomas Caulfield, GlobalFoundries

“The vast majority of today’s fabless customers are looking to get more value out of each technology generation to leverage the substantial investments required to design into each technology node. Essentially, these nodes are transitioning to design platforms serving multiple waves of applications, giving each node greater longevity. This industry dynamic has resulted in fewer fabless clients designing into the outer limits of Moore’s Law. We are shifting our resources and focus by doubling down on our investments in differentiated technologies across our entire portfolio that are most relevant to our clients in growing market segments.”

GF also announced it will establish its ASIC business as a wholly-owned subsidiary, independent from the foundry business.

“A relevant ASIC business requires continued access to leading-edge technology,” the company said. “This independent ASIC entity will provide clients with access to alternative foundry options at 7nm and beyond, while allowing the ASIC business to engage with a broader set of clients, especially the growing number of systems companies that need ASIC capabilities and more manufacturing scale than GF can provide alone.”

The company said its increasing investment in areas where it has “clear differentiation” and delivers “feature-rich offerings across its portfolio,” including focus on its FDXTM platform, leading RF offerings (including RF SOI and high-performance SiGe), analog/mixed signal, and other technologies designed for a growing number of applications that require low power, real-time connectivity and on-board intelligence.” GF called this the burgeoning market for “connected intelligence,” with strong demand in autonomous driving, IoT and the global transition to 5G.

Samuel Wang, research VP at industry watcher Gartner, said GlobalFoundries’ strategic shift is based on a renewed view of its priorities, despite the attention focused on 7nm.

“Lifting the burden of investing at the leading edge will allow GF to make more targeted investments in technologies that really matter to the majority of chip designers in fast-growing markets such as RF, IoT, 5G, industrial and automotive,” Wang said. “While the leading edge gets most of the headlines, fewer customers can afford the transition to 7nm and finer geometries. 14nm and above technologies will continue to be the important demand driver for the foundry business for many years to come. There is significant room for innovation on these nodes to fuel the next wave of technology.”

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