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GlobalFoundries, IBM pursue separate interests

Posted: 05 Aug 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IBM  GlobalFoundries  fab  14nm 

EE Times' Rick Merritt sat down with Semiconductor Advisors' Robert Maire to have a closer look at IBM and GlobalFoundries—the bond these two companies have forged so far, and the circumstances as to why the reported $2 billion deal to acquire IBM's two fabs failed to make progress.

Like an old married couple, IBM and GlobalFoundries are still great partners, but at this stage, they just have different needs. At least, that's the theory I am brewing after a long discussion with Semiconductor Advisors market watcher Robert Maire late Friday afternoon.

GlobalFoundries needs to grab the brass ring to cement its position as a top foundry player. That means big deals for high-margin, bleeding-edge fab business. TSMC is all over the 28nm node, so GF is trying to get out ahead of the 14nm node with its deal with Common Platform partner Samsung that apparently has an edge with the process.

With the technology in place, GF's next step was to put in the right team to drive to 14nm production. Enter Tom Caufield, the guy who led IBM's leading-edge East Fishkill plant for many years. "If anyone can do it, he can," Maire said.

Not long ago, GF and IBM struck a deal to send a couple hundred top IBM experts with GF's leading-edge Malta fab in New York. I assume this was part of the A-Team for 14nm work.

I'm guessing GF's goal is to beat TSMC to a solid 14nm capability. Intel is just about there now with its Broadwell processors about to debut. Samsung is a bit behind Intel but ahead of GF, which wants to be third.

If it succeeds, GF could become a valued second source for leading-edge chips of all sorts, from Apple and Qualcomm mobile processors to wired networking and server chips, from the ABCs of the industry—firms such as AMD, Broadcom, and Cavium. That's a semi-sweet position.

GF is putting all its focus behind the 14nm arrow and has little resources for anything else—like helping IBM with its needs.

The latest unconfirmed stories floating around say that GF walked away from IBM's proposal to sell its East Fishkill and Burlington fabs for $2 billion, saying the price was too high. GF's position makes sense in the light of its laser-like focus on getting to 14nm as soon as possible.


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