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On the costs of 0.13-micron process technology and 300-mm silicon wafer production

Jeremey Donovan, VP and chief analyst at Gartner Dataquest, presented the report about the problems of transition to 0.13-micron process technology and 300-mm wafer production. Though these two manufacturing upgrades are being introduced together, they are not fundamentally intertwined and should be separated for analysis.

The transition from 0.18m to 0.13m process technology, like all previous design dimension reductions, introduces design problems and mask cost problems. Design problems are pretty much borne by all vendors. The problem of mask costs, although also shared by all vendors, creates winners and losers.

A 15-mask set of 0.25m masks costs $150,000, 21 masks at 0.18m cost $250,000, and a set of 0.13m masks costs $600,000. The greater than 2x premium in 0.13m mask sets over 0.18m versions raises the volume threshold beyond which it is better to do an ASIC or ASSP than an FPGA.

Before FPGA vendors jump up and down too much, $600,000 is not all that far from $250,000 in the context of the $20 million or so the average startup raises to get to first silicon. Things get interesting and more favorable for FPGA vendors at 90nm, where mask sets will cost $1.5 million, and especially at 65nm, where the price will approach $4 million.

More significant than the design rule shift is the shift from 200mm to 300mm wafers. Because of rapid capital depreciation and competitive nature of the semiconductor industry, it only makes sense to build a fab if the facility can remain near 100 percent utilization. At a fairly optimistic $150 of revenue per square inch of silicon, a single 300mm wafer is worth around $20,000. Multiply that by 25,000 wafer starts per month and 12 months per year, and it is apparent that a company must sell $4.5 billion worth of semiconductors to justify owning a fab.

What does all this mean? First, the move from 0.18m to 0.13m process technology is less disruptive than some vendors claim. Second, the move to 300mm wafers will leave fewer companies owning their own fabs. More vendors will use foundries or ink deals with competitors to build jointly owned fabs. The few that can fill 300mm fabs will pull increasingly ahead of direct competitors that choose to use foundries. With few exceptions, though, the fabless do tend to compete with the fabless, so all is not lost.

Source: EE Times Asia

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