IBM and GlobalFoundries are jointly manufacturing advanced computer chips at the companies' semiconductor fabs in New York. The project marks the first chips produced at GlobalFoundries' Fab 8. The companies plan to ramp up volume production in the second half of this year.
Based on IBM's 32nm, Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI) technology -- which was jointly developed with GlobalFoundries and other members of Big Blue's Process Development Alliance -- initial production of the new products got under way recently at IBM's 300mm fab in East Fishkill.
IBM said the technology offers drastic improvements to microprocessor performance in multi-core designs and speeds the movement of graphics in gaming, networking and other image-intensive multimedia applications. The SOI process, for example, was used to build the microprocessor that powered IBM Watson, the question-answering computer that won the Jeopardy! quiz show in early 2011.
The Dr. Watson Connection
"One interesting wrinkle to this story is that part of the production is related to the CPUs that were developed for the Watson system," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "Part of this effort offers some insight into some of the commercial opportunities that IBM believes Watson represents."
IBM and Nuance Communications announced a research agreement 11 months ago to develop the Watson supercomputer for the healthcare industry. The deal combines Big Blue's deep question answering, natural language processing and machine learning capabilities with Nuance's speech recognition and clinical language understanding solutions to diagnose and even treat patients.
IBM offered a scenario in which a doctor who is considering a patient diagnosis could use Watson's analytics technology and Nuance's voice and clinical language understanding solutions to consider all the related texts, reference materials, prior cases, and latest knowledge in journals and medical literature. Armed with this information, Watson could help medical professionals determine the most likely diagnosis and treatment options.
"IBM is taking this model and planning on applying it to other industries and disciplines where the decision making is sometimes delayed because of the vast amount of information that's available and that people are required to sift through in order to make a good decision," King said. "The fact that IBM and GlobalFoundries are collaborating and planning for ramp-up of future projects suggests a potentially rosy future for those types of solutions."
Fab 8 Capabilities
GlobalFoundries' new Fab 8 campus is located in the Luther Forest Technology Campus about 100 miles north of the IBM campus in East Fishkill. It is one of the most technologically advanced wafer fabs in the world and the largest leading-edge semiconductor foundry in the United States.
When fully ramped up, the total clean-room space will be approximately 300,000 square feet. The fab will be capable of a total output of approximately 60,000 wafers a month. Fab 8 will focus on leading-edge manufacturing at 32/28nm and below. With its latest fab, GlobalFoundries CEO Ajit Manocha said his company is jointly producing chips with IBM at four fabs on three continents.
The new chips will feature IBM's eDRAM (embedded dynamic random access memory) technology, which promises to dramatically improve on-processor memory performance in about one-third the space with one-fifth the standby power of conventional SRAM.