CHIPMAKERS IBM, Intel, TSMC and Samsung have signed a $4.4bn deal to research smaller process nodes and increase wafer size.
IBM will use the deal with the other biggest names in the chipmaking business to develop its own 22nm and 14nm process nodes, something that Intel has been looking at for many years now. However one thing that will interest all parties is research on increasing wafer size from 300mm to 450mm, more than doubling the number of chips on a single wafer.
It is surprising to see Intel partnering with IBM, the company that many Intel insiders used to view as one that could become its biggest competitor if it bought AMD. While IBM's chipmaking skills are primarily shown off with the firm's mainframe oriented Power chips, Big Blue also makes chips that are used in industrial and other applications such as healthcare. Also its production facilities can be rented out by other chip designers to bake silicon.
The deal between the chipmakers will mean significant investment in IBM's New York facilities. The state has also sweetened the deal by offering a $400m investment in the State University of New York College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.
When Intel revealed its 22nm Trigate transistor technology the firm said that it expects to use it in both 22nm and 14nm process nodes, however going below that will bring further challenges. While Intel has signed a deal with IBM and others to research down to 14nm, it will keep an eye on going beyond that.
For chipmakers, enlarging the size of wafers effectively means lowering production costs by being able to get more chips out of a single wafer run.
One big name missing from the deal is Globalfoundries, the primary manufacturing partner of AMD. It will be interesting to see if Globalfoundries enters a similar research deal with other chipmakers, although after this deal there aren't many more left. µ