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GlobalFoundries to bring the “fastest” 28nm ARM Cortex-A9 design




When ARM announced a cooperation with GlobalFoundries, the question about the nature of this deal came into place. Thanks to Subramani Kengeri, VP of Design Solutions at GlobalFoundries – we managed to find out just that. According to Subramani, the very first thing GlobalFoundries did was license a Cortex-A9 MPCore in order to build a reference design for 28nm HKMG [High-K Metal Gate] / Gate First design.

When GlobalFoundries was splitting from AMD, the company also acquired CPU Design Team that closely worked with IBM in East Fishkill Fab. The expertise of that team and the Design Team in Dresden expanded from standard SOI [Silicon-On-Insulator] CPUs to world’s first SOI GPU [graphics subsystem inside Llano / AMD Fusion APU] and to bulk silicon. For bulk silicon, GlobalFoundries elected to use Cortex-A9 MPCore IP, as the company views that part as one of key ingredients for future smartphones, smart-books, netbooks, tablets and the like. You can expect the official announcement once that the company finishes the design, currently scheduled for June/July, with mass-production starting in the second half of 2010.

In order to woo customers, their implementation of Cortex-A9 is supposed to be the most advanced one in the field – the design teams placed their extensive knowledge in transistor design to create a product which should offer double-digit efficiency improvement than anything competition might come with, and extend the modern x86 CPU manufacturing technologies into the world of bulk silicon. Besides power, the GlobalFoundries design also enabled much higher clock than what is coming from the competition. One of key enables was the transistor design evolution former AMD, now GlobalFoundries is so proud off. From the opening of 200mm Fab 30 [Now Fab 1 Module 2] back in June 2000, AMD transistor design team developed more than 15 generations of transistors.

According to Subramani, “one of largest issues customers faced in the past was the fact that most advanced manufacturing facilities weren’t available. With GlobalFoundries and custom Cortex-A9 silicon, a client can come, take the 28nm design and just assemble an SOC around it, saving months in design time.

When asked why GlobalFoundries made such an investment in designing a part that will never come to market as a GlobalFoundries part, Subramani gave one simple answer: “Because we can.” It isn’t hard to imagine why – with the acquisition of Chartered, GlobalFoundries inherited over 150 customers such as Nintendo, Microsoft, Qualcomm, TI – to name the few. In theory, if a client such as Microsoft would desire to create a custom silicon for their Zune Phone like they did with Xbox, they would only need to purchase the Cortex-A9 MPCore design from GlobalFoundries, order Digital and Analog Logic parts from other players such as NXP, BroadCom, STMicro, Marvell etc – and order wafers from GlobalFoundries. Instead of designing a part for several years, they could deliver a complete SoC silicon within few quarters. This level of speed offered by GlobalFoundries didn’t exist in the industry before and the company looks fairly certain that 2010 and 2011 are only the beginning of their battle for dominance.

The company already has clients for their 28nm version of Cortex-A9 MPCore, so it will be interesting to see who will switch from Samsung, TSMC and the like – to Fab 1 Module 2.

Original Author: Theo Valich

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