For processors, smaller is super, but bigger is better for the wafers the processors are made from. Earlier this week, the Taiwan government gave TSMC -- which manufactures chips for virtually everybody -- permission to build a new $10 billion facility dedicated to creating 450mm-wide wafers, up from the 300mm-wide wafers being developed today. Intel also has plans to move to 450mm wafers. Larger diameter wafers yield more processors, which lowers production costs and makes everybody happy. Just don't expect them to come easy.
We're getting mixed signals from the SEMI Industry Research and Statistics group. Just over a month ago, the firm reported that wafer fab capacity was back in the black with an 8 percent annual growth rate for both 2010 and 2011, and about 9 percent for 2012. Yet we're also being told that fabs are shutting down at a somewhat alarming rate.
SEMI says 15 fabs were shuttered in 2010, and 8 more will have the lights turned off in 2011, DigiTimes reports. The reason for this is that companies are looking to trim costs by becoming either fab-lite or entirely fabless, choosing instead to outsource their orders.
This all comes as good news to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC), Globalfoundries, SMIC, and Samsung, all of which will pick up orders as other companies look to go fabless.
According to an EETimes.com report, Intel put to rest all the recent speculation surrounding its new U.S. fab and confirmed it's being constructed to handle 450mm wafers.
As part of a $6 billion to $8 billion investment, Intel is upgrading several U.S. facilities for 22nm production, as well as building the aforementioned fab in Hillsboro, Oregon. This will be known as D1X and it will go live in 2013.
"Intel is very interested in 450mm," said Mark Borh, Intel Senior Fellow and director of process architecture and integration at Intel. "D1X is being (constructed) to be compatible with 450mm."
The upshot to increasing wafer size like this is that Intel can squeeze more chips out of a single wafer and potentially reduce manufacturing costs.