Sat, Jun 30, 2012 - Page 14 News List

UMC and IBM team up to develop 20nm chips

QUALCOMM ORDER?The firm declined to comment on reports it had won the US company’s Snapdragon S4 processors contract as TSMC faces capacity constraints

By Kevin Chen  /  Staff reporter

United Microelectronics Corp (UMC, 聯電), the world’s No. 2 contract chipmaker, said yesterday it would co-develop semiconductors using 20-nanometer (nm) technology with IBM Corp, as the Taiwanese foundry hoped the advanced process technology could help its customers in designing next-generation chips.

However, the Hsinchu-based company did not disclose the financial terms of the deal and declined to comment on media reports that it had won the contract to produce Qualcomm Inc’s Snapdragon S4 processors.

In a filing to the Taiwan Stock Exchange, UMC said it “has licensed IBM technology to expedite the development of the foundry’s next-generation 20nm CMOS process with FinFET 3D transistors.”

FinFET (FinField-effect-transistor) refers to a fin-based, multigate transistor architecture, which aims to offer space-optimized, energy-efficient transistors design.

Under its collaboration with IBM, UMC said the US company would license its 20nm process design kit and FinFET technology to the Taiwanese foundry, allowing UMC to use these technologies to further accelerate the availability of these processes for its customers’ chip designs for mobile computing and communication products.

“We are happy to engage with a recognized technology leader such as IBM for this technology advancement effort,” I.C. Chen (陳一浸), vice president of UMC’s advanced technology development division, said in the filing. “Leveraging IBM’s technology expertise to shorten our 20nm and FinFET R&D cycle will create a win-win situation for UMC and our customers.”

UMC said its agreement with IBM was only inclusive of IBM’s 20nm CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) and FinFET technologies.

The company’s internally developed 20nm process technology will be aligned with that of IBM’s and the technology will be deployed at its plants in the Southern Taiwan Science Park in Greater Tainan, it added.

UMC announced on May 24 that it planned to spend US$8 billion to expand its advanced chipmaking capacity over the next few years, hoping the investment could boost its 28nm chip production and establish a solid foundation for 20nm chips and beyond.

UMC chief executive officer Sun Shih-wei (孫世偉) said at that time that the company was scheduled to ramp up production of 28nm chips in the second half of this year and to start testing production of 20nm chips at the end of next year.

The Chinese-language Commercial Times yesterday reported that UMC had received Qualcomm’s orders to produce Snapdragon S4 processors for tablets and smartphones using 28nm technology in the fourth quarter.

The speculation came as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (台積電) was reportedly facing constraints in its supply of 28nm chips to Qualcomm, the report said.

Additional reporting by Lisa Wang

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