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by Gary Patton, Vice President, IBM Semiconductor Research and Development Center

IBM’s new chip manufacturing agreement with GlobalFoundries is the latest chapter in the company’s unique role in leading a worldwide collaborative effort that focuses on the development of chip technology and in creating a new semiconductor “Tech Valley” based in New York State.

It was more than ten years ago when IBM first created a new model of establishing alliances with other companies to co-develop chip technology, beginning with the 90-nanometer (billionth of a meter) technology generation. The plan then, as it is today, was for IBM to move away from the traditional go-it-alone chip development approach and join with industry collaborators – many of whom are also market competitors – to share money and brainpower to develop chips that continue to be smaller, faster, better and more energy efficient.

IBM has led alliances for the development of each semiconductor process technology generation since, and extended this collaborative model into manufacturing to provide clients with enhanced chip production capacity and flexibility, which is unique in the industry.

The IBM Technology Alliance is a semiconductor economic model that’s based on open standards and collaboration. The IBM alliance brings together semiconductor leaders to pool resources to more efficiently solve the industry’s toughest R&D challenges, which would be difficult for any one company to undertake on its own. In doing so, it has ensured that chip technology continues its traditional “Moore’s Law” road map of doubling capacity every two years.

In this latest agreement, IBM and GlobalFoundries, a semiconductor “foundry” manufacturing company, will jointly manufacture 32-nanometer chips in IBM’s silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology – the same process used to build the microprocessors that power the IBM Watson computer that famously won the Jeopardy! quiz show.

IBM’s SOI technology delivers improved performance and energy savings in multi-core microprocessors. The chips also feature IBM’s unique eDRAM (embedded dynamic random access memory) that incorporates memory functions onto the processor instead of using separate memory chips.

SOI chips with eDRAM are at the heart of IBM’s POWER processors in servers and supercomputers and are used in communications gear, game systems and other consumer electronics.

The technology was jointly developed by IBM, GlobalFoundries and other members of IBM’s chip development alliance, with early research at the Albany Nanotechnology facility within the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany, New York.

Initial production at IBM’s 300mm fab in East Fishkill has begun, with volume production set to begin at GlobalFoundries’ new 300mm manufacturing facility in Saratoga County, NY – the first silicon produced at this fab.

It’s an example of how IBM has helped make the northeast corridor of the U.S,. and New York State in particular, a center for semiconductor research, development, design and manufacturing. IBM has semiconductor facilities in Vermont and Quebec Canada, and semiconductor manufacturing, development and research activities in East Fishkill, Albany and Yorktown Heights, NY.

This nexus of capability, and the support of state government and universities, has brought IBM’s semiconductor alliance partners, chip equipment companies and industry organizations such as SEMATECH to New York to work on the future of chip technology – it is a key reason why GlobalFoundries built its newest, most advanced fab in the state.

And recently IBM announced a $3.6 billion investment at IBM locations in Yorktown, East Fishkill and Albany NanoTech to develop the next two generations of chip technology – 22-nanometer and then 14-nanometer – and to develop the equipment and techniques needed to manufacture chips on 450mm (about 16-inch diameter) silicon wafers.

As this latest manufacturing agreement demonstrates, collaboration with business, government and higher education drives technology investment, innovation and advancement that ultimately benefit all of us as users of the products it makes possible, whether it’s a smart phone, game system or a cloud-connected server.

It’s an industry leadership role in collaborative development that IBM intends to continue well into the decade.

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