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Intel Hardware

Intel Recruits TSMC To Produce Atom CPUs 109

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the plug-and-play-companies dept.
arcticstoat writes "Intel has surprised the industry by announcing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Taiwanese silicon chip maker TSMC to manufacture Atom CPUs. Although TSMC is already employed by AMD, Nvidia and VIA to make chips, it's not often you see Intel requiring the services of a third fabrication party. Under the MOU, Intel agrees to port its Atom CPU technology to TSMC, which includes Intel's processes, intellectual properties, libraries and design flows relating to the processor. This will effectively allow other customers of TSMC to easily build Atom-based products similarly to how they might use an ARM processor in their own designs. However, Intel says that it will still pick the specific market segments and products that TSMC will go after, which will include system-on-chip products, as well as netbooks, nettops and embedded platforms."
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Intel Recruits TSMC To Produce Atom CPUs

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  • This news did some interesting things to TSMC's stock today.

    http://www.google.com/finance?q=NYSE:TSM [google.com]

    It shot up to ~$7.82 in very early trading, but closed down 1.19% at $7.45.

  • Does this mean that TSMC has Licensed Intel's HKMG (High-K Metal Gate) 45nm process?
    Or does that mean that the TSMC-made Atom chips will be more leaky (and thus, using more power)?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Neither company has revealed which manufacturing technology will be used to make the Atom chips, but Maloney hinted that the CPUs would be built on a 32nm process, saying that "both companies have a sense of urgency, and both companies want to make things as advanced as they can."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by frieko (855745)
      "The TSMC 45nm process combines the most advanced 193nm immersion photolithography, performance-enhancing silicon strains, and extreme low-k (ELK) inter-metal dielectric material to bring both performance and reliability to advanced technology designs."

      sauce [tsmc.com]
      • by frieko (855745)
        parent here. nevermind, they're talking about the dielectric between wires, not transistor dielectric.
  • Long time coming (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I worked at Intel in a temp position last year, and this is nothing new. It was the dirty secret around the fab that Intel was using TSMC for certain runs, and it was only a matter of time before something large scale was announced. Fabs are not profitable without huge volume and both AMD and Intel are feeling the pressure.

  • by SpazmodeusG (1334705) on Monday March 02, 2009 @07:54PM (#27046327)
    Remember how IBMs PC-BIOS was reverse engineered and there wasn't anything IBM could do about it because the reverse engineering was done legitimately?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_engineering#Binary_software [wikipedia.org]

    If Intel licenses its 32nm manufacturing process to TSMC it will make it harder for TSMC to create a new 32nm for creating chips for other manufacturers. Intel could claim TSMC used information given to them under a license agreement. It will be hard for TSMC to claim any new 32nm process wasn't created using information covered under that license.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by zaft (597194)
      The press I have seen specifically said that Intel was NOT licensing any of its process technology.
    • by brucmack (572780)

      I think the summary uses a few different definitions of 'process' at the same time.

      Intel will not be giving TSMC any information about their manufacturing processes. Instead, Intel will be redesigning their chips so that TSMC can manufacture them on their process.

      There are a few reasons for why Intel is doing this:
      - They have high ambitions for sales of Atom in embedded devices, so they will need more fab capacity than they own themselves
      - It will facilitate embedding other companies' IP in their Systems-on

  • by John Jamieson (890438) on Monday March 02, 2009 @08:05PM (#27046423)

    Intel does not need any fabbing capacity. What they do like is to mess with AMD partners.

    Let the games begin.

    • by Nick Ives (317)

      If they don't need the capacity then they're gonna end up with lots of useless Atoms. I remember a game company here in the UK bought up all the tape copying duplication facilities they could in the run-up to Christmas back in the 80s just to mess with their competitors; it was one of the decisions that lead to their eventual bankruptcy (not piracy as one of the former directors still likes to claim).

  • by Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) on Monday March 02, 2009 @09:05PM (#27046895)

    This is Intel saying they MIGHT outsource some manufacturing to TSMC for the Atom SOC applications. Intel has their own pretty substantial fab facilities. However, they're out on this netbook limb now. If it takes off, they're going to need extra manufacturing to meet demand. If it doesn't take off, they don't want to have a lot of capital tied up in extra fab facilities.

    I'm not a big Intel fan, but this is a fairly astute move on their part and buys them some flexibility in the medium-term depending on where netbook sales go.

    Best,

    • by caladine (1290184)

      This is Intel saying they MIGHT outsource some manufacturing to TSMC for the Atom SOC applications. Intel has their own pretty substantial fab facilities. However, they're out on this netbook limb now. If it takes off, they're going to need extra manufacturing to meet demand. If it doesn't take off, they don't want to have a lot of capital tied up in extra fab facilities.

      I'm not a big Intel fan, but this is a fairly astute move on their part and buys them some flexibility in the medium-term depending on where netbook sales go.

      Best,

      Seems to me this is the likely reason, in addition to this from the summary

      This will effectively allow other customers of TSMC to easily build Atom-based products similarly to how they might use an ARM processor in their own designs.

      ARM-based products are the major competition with Atom in the up and coming smaller device market. If they want other OEMs to use Atom, they'd have to do something like this, or make them themselves. Given the current economy, this gives all the more weight to the "using TSMC as possible additional manufacturing capacity".

  • Atom cpus are not especially profitable. They're cheap. Intel is handing them off to TSMC and probably hoping like hell that the market still craves high performance. Unless more software is parallelized, things are going to be bad!

    Note: I parallelized my software and the Core i7 is awesome. Superlinear speedup is easy to achieve with a dedicated L2 cache. The Phenom II would also give great performance. So I would bet that Atom and other underpowered cpus are a fad. They will not look very good nex
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by toddestan (632714)

      So I would bet that Atom and other underpowered cpus are a fad. They will not look very good next to a mobile Core i7 that is 20x faster when all cores are used.

      Why do you think they are a fad? They obviously aren't going to be much use for what you do, but the vast majority of people can do what they want to do with with fairly low powered hardware. For them, a cheap Atom-based computer may be hard to pass up. The Atom 330 is a dual core 1.6Ghz processor with Hyperthreading. That's a fairly respectable

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MBGMorden (803437)

        The Atom 330 is a dual core 1.6Ghz processor with Hyperthreading. That's a fairly respectable amount of power for a computer used for browsing the internet, viewing photos, and managing a music collection. You can buy an Atom 330 CPU/board combo for $80 by the way.

        The megahertz myth is important here though. A 1.6Ghz Core2 Duo based chip - very powerful for most user's needs. A 1.6Ghz Atom (even dual core) - not so much. When comparing single cores the Atom doesn't even stack up Mhz to Mhz to the Via chips.

        Then compare: for about $90 you can get a dual core 1.6ghz Celeron chip based on the Core 2 Duo architecture that will smoke a 1.6ghz Atom in performance terribly.

        Basically, the low-low end of standard desktop components is on parity in price to the high end Atom

        • by toddestan (632714)

          The thing with the Atom though, is that you only really need to match the performance of hardware from a few years ago to make most people happy. People right now are fairly satisfied with single core P4's in the 2.4-3.0Ghz range for what they want to do. If the Atom can match that level of performance, then I can see it being a big hit. Of course, a lot of people may be swayed by the "for a few dollars more" argument and go with something like a Celeron, but at these price levels you may be talking $200

          • by MBGMorden (803437)

            Though you're right, the Atom 330 is more like a dual P3 1Ghz more than anything more modern like a Core 2 processor, but the level of performance is not that far behind where it needs to be.

            Actually, IIRC the Core 2 architecture is largely the old P3 architecture reworked (it always was miles ahead of the P4 in terms or performance per mhz). From what I've gathered the Atom chips are more or less the original Pentium MMX architecture updated to modern fab processes and such that allow it higher Mhz yields than it's original run.

            Though again, I see your point - they're mostly good enough (hell I have a sister still running on an AMD K6-2 system), but the difference in price right now for build

            • by MBGMorden (803437)

              Minor note: when I said "MiniITX boards" at the end, I meant to qualify that with "Atom MiniITX boards" specifically.

            • by toddestan (632714)

              I will admit, my interest in the Atom is to replace an old P3 I leave on 24/7. It serves mostly as machine to manage ..um.. downloads and seeding. It also serves as a light duty web server, a music player, and I use it to browse the internet with it when my other computers aren't on. I find it's not really CPU bound, even though it's "only" 1GHz, the biggest problem with it is that it's maxed out at 512MB of ram, which becomes a bit of a stretch when I have a torrent client open, a modern web browser, mu

    • by Microlith (54737)

      Atom isn't a fad, so much as it's the initial phases of an assault on ARM's territory, which they've had locked down for some time now.

      Netbooks and MIDs are just the first phase of its rollout. Intel isn't so concerned about the Atom eating the netbook/low-end laptop market up (since at this point it'll just run the Celeron out of the market) so much as encroaching on Core2/Core i7 territory. As a result, they've got large restrictions on what you can make with Atoms before they'll sell them to you (if you

  • It will only be a matter of time before the knockoffs come marching in.

  • These threads are wandering all over the place and getting away from the obvious: Intel's Atom will be a widely used processor for the next decade and beyond, so Intel needs to make Atom available in ways that Intel itself would not want to manufacture.

    Atom first appeared in consumer devices such as Netbooks. Millions of chips ... but not the billions of chips in the addressable market.

    As Atom is designed into embeddable products which require special characteristics such as automobiles (e.g., embeddabl

  • After Intel acquired Mobilian, they were still using TSMC to fab their 802.11/Bluetooth chips for a couple of years afterwards.

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