Fri, Jan 28, 2000 - Page 17 News List

UMC, IBM in chip alliance

By Simon Burns  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AGENCIES

President of UMC USA Jim Kupec gestures as he explains that IBM, UMC and Infineon will combine to develop leading technologies for use in semiconductor production. The development work will be conducted by a team of scientists and engineers staffed from all three companies.

PHOTO: AP

United Microelectronics Corp (聯電), Taiwan's second largest chipmaker, will work with IBM and Infineon Technologies of Germany to develop next-generation manufacturing technology for computer chips, UMC announced yesterday.

In a statement to the press, UMC Chairman, Robert Tsao said the agreement represents a path to the future for IC designers around the world.

In common with its local rival, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (台積電), Tsao's company does not design any chips of its own. Instead, UMC offers a contract manufacturing service, building chips to order for the many small and medium chip designers who have no hope of raising the huge sums needed to build a semiconductor foundry.

The alliance will eventually produce chips containing 0.10 micron circuits, about one thousandth the width of a human hair, although the initial target is 0.13 micron technology. The new chips will combine logic, mixed-signal and embedded DRAM memory circuitry.

The combination of these three types of circuit makes possible a so-called "system on a chip" -- a single chip that could replace many of the electronic components inside a PC.

Such chips are expected to become increasingly popular in low-cost Internet-connected devices known as information appliances.

The chips developed by the partnership will use copper to link together components on their surfaces instead of the commonly used aluminum. This technology, known as copper interconnect, makes it possible to build chips that run faster than traditional designs, while consuming less power.

TSMC is also working on 0.13 and 0.10 micron technology and copper interconnect. Providing smaller scale features on the chip surface allows designers to pack more functions into their chips.

But it also gives chipmakers such as UMC and TSMC the ability to shrink the chips they produce, and therefore make more. Both companies are facing a capacity squeeze, and smaller chips are one way out of this.

Infineon's chief operating officer, Andreas von Zitzewitz told the press that, by working together, the new partners hoped to reduce risks and costs.

Semiconductor research and production are capital intensive areas, where individual companies are finding it harder to meet costs that often rise into the billions.

Scientists and engineers from the three companies will work together on the project at IBM's US research laboratories.

However, sources and local press reports say the deal will involve a transfer of technology from IBM to UMC.

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