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Freed from fabs, AMD crashes fabless party

Having spun off its chip manufacturing operations into GlobalFoundries, AMD has positioned itself as the No.2 global fabless IC supplier in terms of sales, second only to Qualcomm, according to IC Insights.

The top 25 fabless companies collectively suffered in 2009 like everyone else, with sales declining 13%—but the top 10 did notably better, with just a 4% decline in sales, meaning their share of the overall fabless sector rose to 65%, up five points from 2007. Rising barriers to entry (high design costs, increasingly difficult access to venture capital money, etc.) means that this top grouping will likely increase its lion's share of the market.

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Note that all but one of the top 10 companies, and 17 of the top 25, are based in the US. The presence of just a single Japanese company (MegaChips, No.19) indicates domestic resistance to the fabless/foundry model, IC Insights suggests. Also note that of the five companies managing double-digit growth in 2009, four of them were from Taiwan; the island's fabless firms in particular "staged a strong comeback" in 2H09, the analyst firm notes. MediaTek, for example, posted a 22% gain in 2009, impressive for its $3.5B size. Expect more Taiwanese (and Chinese) fabless firms to make this list in future years as their IC design houses proliferate.


Fabless giant Qualcomm has made deals with TSMC and GlobalFoundries to reserve leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing capacity—a move seen both as a way to mitigate manufacturing risk, but also possibly a case-study comparison of key advanced-node semiconductor process technologies.

Abu Dhabi's Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC), the main backer of GlobalFoundries, has reached preliminary agreements with the Korean Semiconductor Industry Association (KSIA) to exploring R&D collaboration and unspecified investment "opportunities."

GlobalFoundries has officially integrated operations with Chartered; the combined entity has >150 customers, five 200mm fabs and a 300mm fab in Singapore, and a 300mm fab complex in Dresden, with its Luther Forest (NY) site planned by 2012. The company projects adding capacity by 1.6M 300mm wafers a year through 2013.

Süss MicroTec has installed a full equipment set at Q-Technology Ltd. (Q Tech), in Kunshan City's (Jiangsu Province) Hi-Tech Industrial Park, for wafer-level camera module manufacturing.

ChipMOS has agreed to sell to CitiGroup Financial its claim against Spansion for unpaid testing and assembly services; the projected $117M transaction covers a ~$70M claim as well as $234M in alleged damages.


The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is asking the chip industry to come up with new ways of designing integrated circuits for affordable, low-volume nanofabrication for US Department of Defense (DOD) applications.

Optics firm II-VI has submitted an unsolicited $170M offer for Zygo, a firm which a year ago called off its planned merger with Electro Scientific Industries (and paid $5M in breakup fees).

Ferrotec is acquiring Edwards Vacuum's Temescal e-beam coating business for compound semiconductors.

Under an expanded agreement, Freescale Semiconductor will deploy Mentor Graphics' Tessent and Calibre technologies for design-for-test (DFT), physical verification and analysis, advanced resolution enhancement technologies (RET), and pre- and post-tapeout design-for-manufacturability (DFM).

Innovalight has raised $18M in Series D financing, led by Singapore's EDB Investments, to push production of its solar cell efficiency-boosting silicon ink.

Tessera chairman Bruce McWilliams has stepped down but will remain a director; president/CEO Henry Nothhaft will add chairman to his titles.

Yale University researchers have created a transistor from a single-molecule by attaching benzene to gold contacts.


Tessera has licensed its Shellcase MVP image sensor packaging technology to China's Jiangyin Changjiang Advanced Packaging for wafer-level packaging designed into portable electronics products.

ATopTech says TSMC has qualified its Aprisa physical design software for 40nm node manufacturing.

ASAT Holdings has agreed to sell all shares in subsidiary ASAT Ltd.—and thus the company's only operating unit, ASAT Semiconductor in Dongguan, China—to United Test and Assembly Center (UTAC) for about $45M.

Elpida is now mass-producing 40nm 2Gb DDR3 SDRAMs at its Hiroshima plant. Taiwan subsidiary Rexchip will ramp the devices in 2Q10; transfer to foundry partners ProMOS and Winbond is pending.

MEMC Electronic Materials has acquired a ~10% ownership in solar wafer maker Eversol. MEMC also recently invested in Tioga Energy, and forged a new $250M three-year credit deal.


The Advanced Mask Technology Center in Dresden, a JV between AMD and Toppan Photomasks (and originally Infineon), is folding in Toppan's onsite manufacturing operations.

STMicroelectronics has joined the CEA-Leti-led "IMAGINE" program to develop multiple e-beam (maskless) lithography technology, a project backed this summer by TSMC.

X-Fab has invested $1.5M in, and been named the designated foundry for, semiconductor printing startup Semprius; the foundry also has released a new process optimized for high-speed optoelectronic applications.

Nineteen partners in the four-year, €8.5M CMOS photonics project HELIOS have met or exceeded phase-one goals for light photodetection and light coupling
outing. End goals of the project include a 40Gb/s modulator-on-IC, a 16×10 Gb/s transceiver for WDM-PON applications, a photonic QAM-10Gb/s wireless transmission system, and a mixed-analog and digital transceiver module for multifunction antennas.

STMicroelectronics says its new 3-axis digital accelerometers, due to ramp production in 3Q10, are down to 2×2mm footprint and <10µA at 100Hz sampling rate, an order-of-magnitude lower than current devices.

GenISys is integrating Juspertor's LayoutEditor with its Layout Beamer and Layout Lab tools.

Fairchild Semiconductor and Infineon have dropped litigation over 14 transistor patents, resulting in a cross-licensing agreement and payments to Infineon and a $6M charge to Fairchild's 4Q books.

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