TSMC to be AMD's new best friend?

The foundry says it's got a big customer coming on board next year, and AMD's making sounds like it wants a new friend with a manufacturing plant.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
2 min read

While AMD isn't giving away any information on its future fab plans, a major chip foundry is gearing up for a big new customer.

TSMC, the largest chip foundry in the world, is apparently planning to take on a new customer that wants to use the high-k dielectrics and metal gates introduced earlier this year by both Intel and IBM. Sumner Lemon of IDG News Service sat through a TSMC earnings call in which company executives mentioned a mysterious new customer would be coming on board in the second half of 2008.

There are not a lot of folks planning to use that technology at 45-nanometers in 2008. Intel is, but it's got its own manufacturing facilities. IBM is, but it also grows iits own in New York. Sun and TI are, but they've got plans to build their chips at TI's facility in Texas. Then comes AMD, which is planning to use metal gates in the future and has been thinking about relying more on foundries.

Novel technologies like metal gates--which are actually the first changes to the basic materials in a transistor since the 1960s--generally enter production on processors that are gunning for every last bit of performance. If performance isn't as much of an issue, it makes more sense to wait until the kinks are ironed out. Companies like Intel, IBM, and AMD are generally the ones pushing the envelope on both performance and new transistor technology, so it's pretty likely that TSMC's customer is someone like that.

AMD's losing a lot of money these days, and rumors have been flying that the company wants to outsource more production to foundries. TSMC already makes graphics chips for AMD. Both companies use the letter "M" in their names. Seems like a done deal.

But yesterday, AMD said it hadn't decided whether to use the metal gates on the second iteration of its 45-nanometer chips, or the first generation of its 32-nanometer chips. AMD's first 45-nanometer chips are scheduled to come out in the middle of 2008. If in fact that decision hasn't been made, then TSMC is probably looking at another customer in 2008, since AMD's 32-nanometer designs won't be ready until 2009 at the earliest.

All of this speculation comes because AMD hasn't said exactly what it wants to do to obtain future chip-making capacity. It has danced around something called "asset-light," but hasn't really explained what that will mean in the future.