GlobalFoundries takes first step to break free from AMD

Advanced Micro Devices spin-off GlobalFoundries is set to announce its first customer soon, taking a step forward as it tries to build up its manufacturing operations.

GlobalFoundries’ addition of a new customer is a big step in the company’s efforts to diversify its chip manufacturing over multiple customers, the company said at the Semicon West trade show in San Francisco. The company declined to name the customer, saying an announcement would come in the next few weeks.

GlobalFoundries was formed in March after AMD spun off its manufacturing unit in a joint venture with Advanced Technology Investment Co. (ATIC), an investment fund controlled by the Abu Dhabi government. Close to 100 days on the company is still only working with AMD and finds itself trying to shed the identity as AMD’s manufacturing arm.

Every new customer will bring a larger degree of separation from AMD, said Thomas Sonderman, vice president of manufacturing systems and technology at GlobalFoundries.

But separating from AMD’s clutches could take time, he conceded. A bulk of the chip manufacturing volume surrounds CPUs and other chips for AMD, which holds a minority stake GlobalFoundries.

A lot of CPU technologies acquired by GlobalFoundries also comes from AMD, which has put the chip manufacturer at the center of a cross-licensing spat between Intel and AMD.

Breaking away may not be easy for GlobalFoundries as AMD has a vested interest in the factories, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. Production of chips designed by AMD are pinned to the factories, in which AMD holds a stake, he said.

GlobalFoundries currently supplies CPUs made using the 45-nanometer manufacturing process to AMD, and will jump to the advanced 32-nm node sometime next year, according to the GlobalFoundries’ manufacturing roadmap. The 32-nm node will pack more features in a CPU while reducing its size and power consumption. GlobalFoundries will also focus on the 28-nanometer manufacturing node to make chips used in graphics cards and mobile devices over the next two years.

Making chips for AMD — like the complicated six-core chip codenamed Istanbul — proves that GlobalFoundries is capable of making advanced chips, Sonderman said.

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