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AMD has built hardware at Samsung, could tap foundry for future products

AMD is increasingly coy when it comes to discussing its foundry sourcing; the company’s official stance is that it no longer discloses which hardware is built at GlobalFoundries and which is built at TSMC. Because this information is of significant interest to investors and technology enthusiasts alike, details still tend to leak out around the edges — and AMD recently disclosed it has built hardware directly with Samsung, with a further option to tap the company in the future for product ramps.

This news comes from analyst Patrick Moorhead, of Moor Insights and Security. One of the major questions AMD investors raised after the company’s conference call last week was where AMD was building most of its hardware. While the company disclosed that it had purchased $75 million in wafers from GlobalFoundries in Q2, that’s a fraction of AMD’s usual wafer spend. Moorhead questioned AMD on the deal and received the following quote:

Having the option to build at Samsung could be important to AMD’s long-term plans and overall success for a number of reasons. The GlobalFoundries spinoff was meant to give AMD a more agile manufacturing partner, one that could simultaneously meet AMD’s long-term needs while ramping up a client foundry business that would generate additional revenue and spur investment from outside companies. Unfortunately, the lofty dreams of 2009 met the cold waters of reality by around 2011. GlobalFoundries has struggled a great deal to build its customer base; AMD had to cancel its Krishna and Wichita parts and move that silicon to TSMC instead. GloFo also cancelled its 20nm and 14nm XM nodes and licensed 14nm technology from Samsung instead. Last year, there were rumors that even the 14nm tech from Samsung was delayed.

That’s not to say AMD has been a perfect partner, either. Bulldozer, AMD’s first high-volume 32nm part, was supposed to be a triumphant return to competition with Intel. Instead, it became an industry punchline. There have been major executive shake-ups at both companies since GloFo launched as an independent entity. While both companies now insist that their relationship is hunky-dory, I think it’s fair to say that neither company got the partner it hoped to have.

Securing potential fab space at Samsung is a smart move for AMD. Even if doesn’t run significant volume at the Korean foundry, it has the option to do so in the event that either GloFo or TSMC run into ramping or yield problems of their own. Any designs that are built on GloFo’s licensed version of Samsung’s 14nm should be easily transferred to Samsung itself. We’ve written before about the difficulty of moving hardware from foundry to foundry, but if GlobalFoundries is building on Samsung-licensed tech that difficulty should be severely reduced if not eliminated altogether.

As of this writing and to the best of our knowledge, AMD hasn’t made any major changes to where it builds its current hardware. Its 28nm GPUs, including Fiji, are TSMC parts. Polaris 10 and 11 are built at GlobalFoundries. AMD’s 28nm APUs and 32nm Piledriver products are all GloFo parts as well, while its 28nm Jaguar and Puma-derived APUs were initially TSMC parts, but the socketed version of these chips were built at GloFo. It is assumed that Zen will be a GloFo part on 14nm and we don’t know if Vega is built at TSMC or GlobalFoundries. I’ve theorized that it’ll be a TSMC chip, since GloFo’s 14nm process isn’t tuned to build GPUs with 200W – 250W TDPs, but that’s purely a theory on my part.

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