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Exclusive: NVIDIA Tapes out Tegra at Samsung Fab, IBM, GlobalFoundries Next?




At the Common Platform Technology Forum 2012, held today in Santa Clara, CA – we have confirmed our suspicions: Qualcomm and more importantly, NVIDIA passed the point of impatience with their main foundry, Taiwanese TSMC.

According to people in the know, NVIDIA has two winning architectures for the 2012-13 timeframe: T40 i.e. Tegra 4 is bringing CUDA capabilities and is based on a contemporary GPU architecture, while Kepler is thrilling the reviewers with the first mobile part, the GeForce GT 640M. If mobile parts are to be judged upon, the upcoming desktop parts will eat up the market even though we’ve heard that the consumer parts have significantly impaired computational capabilities.

Is Samsung 20nm “HKMG Gate Last” wafers from Austin TX feature NVIDIA Tegra processors? Only time will tell

Both Tegra 4 and Kepler are going to be built using the 28nm process at TSMC and the biggest worry for the company is the constrained supply. Nobody can get enough supply, and the battle is on between AMD, NVIDIA and Qualcomm are scraping for each available 28nm wafer.

The problem Qualcomm faced with TSMC was done swiftly and the company is now utilizing alternative manufacturers as well, such as GlobalFoundries. However, the problem with the Common Platform Manufacturing Alliance (IBM, GlobalFoundries, and Samsung) is that they are using “Gate First” approach for the High-K Metal Gate. The Common Platform alliance announced that they are switching to “Gate Last” approach with the 20nm process. Intel and TSMC on the other hand, utilize “HKMG Gate Last” for their manufacturing processes.

While even Intel insiders agree that Gate First is a more efficient approach, it also has more risk-prone and Intel and TSMC just didn’t want to take the plunge into a temporary advantage. At 22/20nm, Gate Last is the approach to have.

Second problem was the fact that according to our sources close to heart of the matter, NVIDIA did not want to deal with GlobalFoundries while AMD was the shareholder “for competitive purposes”. NVIDIA’s executives obviously didn’t have the memo in which AMD-GF relationship was strained (Llano is a good example).
Thus, what could NVIDIA do? The company talked with the Common Platform for quite some time, and the choice was obvious. When 28nm and 20nm processes started to reach early phase, NVIDIA talked to Samsung about a trial run of Tegra chips. The engineering work required for this task took a lot of effort from NVIDIA and Samsung, but we received word that very recently, NVIDIA received chips from Samsung.

Once 20nm process matures AMD, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm and just about everybody else will be able to switch foundries from TSMC to Common Platform and back, which are what all companies need to battle Intel’s “transistor excellence”.

Qualcomm already uses Common Platform through GlobalFoundries and it looks NVIDIA is joining the Common Platform through the small doors with Samsung. With AMD expanding from GlobalFoundries to TSMC, it looks like the foundry battle will seriously heat up at 20nm.

Now, bear in mind just one thing – Samsung’s Fab in Austin, Texas is a multi-billion dollar investment which currently manufactures Apple A5 and A5X, as well as Samsung’s own Exynos processors. If Apple goes with TSMC due to legal issues “poisoning the well,” Samsung will gladly open its doors to NVIDIA. According to our source – judging by the Austin-made Tegra silicon now in NVIDIA’s Santa Clara headquarters, it looks like Samsung already opened up their kimono.

Update March 16th, 2012 2227 UTC – Based on the comments given, it looks to us that there is a lot of reaction about the “opening your kimono” reference in the story. This is a standard silicon valley term, and we’ve heard it a few dozen times this year alone. One of sources for this story was a South Korean industry insider (now, if he is an American citizen or South Korean, we’ll leave you guessing) and he used that term.
We do understand and respect the difference between kimono and hanbok, but the phrase “open your hanbok” is not as used as the first one.

Original Author: Theo Valich

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