Agreement between the two companies would see Samsung develop a 14nm process node and license it to GlobalFoundries, but there’s also a reason for caution.
Intel will soon not be the only one fabricating 14nm chips. Samsung and GlobalFoundries have announced that the two companies have reached an agreement that would see silicon developed on the 14nm FinFET process node manufactured at both Samsung’s foundries in South Korea and Austin, Texas as well as GlobalFoundries’ foundry in Saratoga, New York.
The FinFET process is a way to stack additional transistors onto the silicon, thereby making faster and more power-efficient chip. For an explainer on the manufacturing process, watch the video below:
In a press release, Samsung and GlobalFoundries say the process improvement could result in 20 percent higher speeds and 35 percent less power consumption than a comparable chip manufactured using the 20nm process technology.
Having GlobalFoundries manufacture silicon with the 14nm FinFET process node means that its customers will be able to design chips using this process. AMD, a prominent customer of GlobalFoundries, said the partnership would help AMD make a serious play at the low-power mobile sector.
“The work that GlobalFoundries and Samsung are doing together will help AMD deliver our next generation of groundbreaking products with new levels of processing and graphics capabilities to devices ranging from low-power mobile devices, to next-generation dense servers to high-performance embedded solutions,” AMD’s Lisa Su said in a press release.
But putting GlobalFoundries’ track record — particularly with AMD — in a historical context should tame one’s enthusiasm on this deal’s potential. Rewind to 2011 and AMD was being held hostage by problems at GlobalFoundries. Problems with ramping up production at GlobalFoundries on the 32mn process meant that AMD’s Bulldozer architecture was long delayed, and there weren’t enough Llano APUs to go around until 2012 (which led to delays with Llano’s successor Trinity).
Ultimately GlobalFoundries’ delays, and the disappointing performance of Bulldozer (blame was shared between both parties) led AMD to have to move to Taiwan’s Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) for its 28nm APUs. This was an expensive headache for AMD, but ultimately was the right decision.
While the GlobalFoundries and Samsung deal is an interesting development, just manufacturing at 14nm using FinFET alone isn’t a “hail mary” in terms of outright performance boosts. What matters more is microarchitecture and transistor budgets — both of which are the responsibility GlobalFoundries’ customers to deliver.