Visitors to the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona expect to enjoy an event that encompasses just about every aspect of mobile communications. And this year’s event did not disappoint. All the regular exhibitors were there with exhibition stands ranging from those large enough to house the population of a small town to those just about able to accommodate a table and two chairs. But that’s okay; technology breakthroughs can come in all shapes and sizes.
So OEM designers, developers of mobile systems and networks, and comms operators all had something to look at. What struck me though was that out of a total of 1300 exhibiting companies only one of them was showing important advances in foundry technology—Global Foundries.
This company, in conjunction with ARM, used Barcelona’s mobile techfest to unveil details about their system-on-chip (SoC) technology for powering next-generation wireless products and applications. This new chip manufacturing platform was worth hearing about. It is projected it will enable a 40% increase in computing performance, a 30% decrease in power consumption, and a 100% increase in standby battery life. Now, we all know that consumers demand an unstoppable increase in applications from their mobile products. Consequently, manufacturers quickly seize upon any improved efficiencies in power consumption in an attempt to squeeze more apps into their products. As a result, power savings are immediately consumed in the race to be the mobile market’s all-powerful mobile apps provider.
So Global Foundries and ARM’s announcement was important, particularly when it’s generally recognized that consumers will accept having to re-charge their mobile handsets once daily but definitely not twice daily, regardless of the number of apps they have. The new platform being shown involves collaboration on two Global Foundries process variants: 28nm super-low-power (SLP) for mobile and consumer applications and 28nm high-performance (HP) for applications requiring maximum performance.
"The success of the next generation of mobile products will be increasingly dependent on their ability to deliver PC-class performance, a highly integrated rich media experience and longer battery life," commented Global Foundries chief operating officer Chia Song Hwee. "These demands are going to require a strong technology foundation and close collaboration between industry leaders to enable an increasing number of design companies to unlock this innovation. We are working closely with ARM to optimize the physical IP and implementation of the Cortex-A9 processor with our proven manufacturing experience in high-volume, advanced technology products, to deliver a fully integrated platform for leading-edge wireless products and applications."
The ARM and Global Foundries SoC platform is based on the ARM Cortex-A9 processor, optimized ARM physical IP, and Global Foundries’ 28nm Gate-First High-K Metal Gate (HKMG) process. Together, ARM and Global Foundries expect to enable manufacturers of smartphones, smartbooks, tablets, and other devices to address increasing design and manufacturing complexities while reducing time-to-volume-production at mature yields.
Terrific stuff, so when is all this going to happen?
Global Foundries expects to start production on these next-generation technologies in the second half of 2010 at its fab in Dresden, Germany and the company is convinced that its 28nm process with Gate-First HKMG technology provides significant performance gains over the previous generation 40/45nm technologies. Current estimates show 28nm with HKMG will provide approximately 40% higher performance within the same thermal envelope, delivering improved application performance and enriched multi-tasking capabilities on mobile devices.
An important point about all this is that Global Foundries is well positioned to bring this technology to market rapidly while offering customers the benefits of the widely adopted Gate-First approach to HKMG. The Gate-First approach enjoys industry support from many of the world's largest IDMs and fabless design companies. Also, improvements in power efficiency are necessary with each new technology generation to deliver longer talk/standby time, multimedia playback, and interactive gaming and graphics.
Both companies believe the combined benefits of ARM IP and Global Foundries 28nm HKMG process enables up to a 30% reduction in power consumption and 100% increase in standby battery life compared to 40/45nm. So you can’t blame the apps innovators at handset makers if they are rubbing their hands with glee on hearing that statement.
I think that ARM has chosen a very well placed company to partner with on this work. Global Foundries currently has five 200mm fabs and one 300mm fab in Singapore, as well as one leading-edge 300mm fab complex in Dresden, Germany.
In a move which shows considerable confidence that product demand will escalate, Global Foundries has an aggressive production capacity plan, including expansion of Fab 1 in Dresden and Fab 7 in Singapore, as well as construction of a new 300mm facility in Saratoga County, New York. The New York facility, which will be renamed as Fab 8, is on track to begin ramping initial production in 2012. With these plans in place, Global Foundries says that global leading-edge capacity is expected to expand to 1.6 million 300mm wafers annually by 2014. This will be supplemented by 2.2 million 200mm wafers annually, offering customers the full spectrum of foundry technology from mainstream to the leading edge, for a total of 5.8 million 200mm equivalents.