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Samsung teams with GlobalFoundries on 3D chips

Samsung teams with GlobalFoundries on 3D chips

The deal will help Samsung and GlobalFoundries provide an adequate supply of mobile chips

Samsung is partnering with chip manufacturer GlobalFoundries to increase the supply of low-power, high-speed chips for smartphones and tablets.

GlobalFoundries has licensed Samsung's 14-nanometer FINFET chip making process, which is used to manufacture 3D transistors. Those transistors will allow GlobalFoundries to make chips that are 20 percent faster and use 35 percent less power than chips made using its current 20-nanometer technology, the companies said.

GlobalFoundries doesn't use the chips itself. It's a foundry supplier, which means it makes chips for other companies that outsource their chip production, such as Advanced Micro Devices, Nvidia and Qualcomm.

Chip makers are constantly racing to build faster, more power-efficient chips, and the deal with Samsung will help GlobalFoundries compete better with other foundry suppliers such as Taiwan's TSMC.

In fact, GlobalFoundries had been pursuing its own 14-nanometer technology, which it planned to introduce this year. It has now dropped that technology, apparently deciding that Samsung's FINFET process is a better option.

Moving to a more advanced process quickly is important to staying competitive. Many of today's mobile devices use 28-nanometer chips, but Qualcomm recently announced its first 64-bit, 20-nanometer part, a step on the way to 14 nanometer.

Intel, which has some of the most advanced manufacturing plants in the world, is already making 14-nanometer chips. They'll be introduced this year for PCs. Samsung, GlobalFoundries and others have been accelerating their manufacturing road maps to catch up.

TSMC, which is the world's largest foundry supplier, will start producing 3D transistors this year using a 16-nanometer process. The number refers to the smallest circuits etched on the surface of the chips.

The deal between Samsung and GlobalFoundries could bring them certain advantages. They'll be able to promise customers a steady supply of chips, because customers will now be able to order the same type of FINFET products from GlobalFoundries' factory in Saratoga County, New York, as well as from Samsung's factories in Korea and in Austin, Texas.

Intel and TSMC each use different 14-nm and FINFET technologies, so their customers don't have the option to use other companies' fabs.

GlobalFoundries will start making the 14-nm chips early next year, though they might not reach mobile devices until 2016, since device makers will first need to test and validate the chips in their products. The manufacturing process will be used for a range of graphics and application processors.

FINFET transistors can be used in all kinds of computers, including desktops and servers, but GlobalFoundries cut the deal with Samsung technology mainly to meet the growing demand for smartphone and tablet chips, said Ana Hunter, GlobalFoundries' vice president of product management.

GlobalFoundries was formed when AMD spun out its chip manufacturing plants a few years ago. AMD is one of GlobalFoundries' main customers, and last week the two companies extended their chip-making deal.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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