GlobalFoundries stops development of its 7-nm LP node

The frighteningly expensive race for the last shrinks of silicon processes has claimed another contestant. GlobalFoundries announced today that it is suspending development of its 7-nm LP process indefinitely in order to shift its resources to specialized, continued development of its 14-nm and 12-nm FinFET nodes. This abrupt strategy change comes just months after the company touted its confidence and the scale of its investments in leading-edge fabrication technology at its Fab 8 facility in Malta, New York.

The decision was driven by economics rather than any technical roadblocks with 7LP, said CTO Gary Patton in an interview with Anandtech. The company says its future lies in tailored process improvements to its 14-nm and 12-nm FinFET processes for radio-frequency, embedded memory, and low-power customers. GlobalFoundries will also focus development efforts on its 22FDX and 12FDX processes for use with RF, analog, or mixed-signal designs that need low power, relatively low cost, and high performance.

Anandtech also reports that future development of GlobalFoundries' 5-nm and 3-nm nodes has been terminated, and the company will cease cooperating with IBM's silicon research arm at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany, NY after the end of this year. GlobalFoundries will also lay off 5% of its staff, according to the report, and it will be forced to renegotiate its wafer supply agreements with IBM and AMD.

While this move is certainly heartbreaking for silicon geeks like yours truly, the hard truth of the matter appears to be that GlobalFoundries would have had difficulty attracting enough business in the long run to make investment in its 7-nm, 5-nm, and 3-nm processes worth the enormous sums of cash needed to realize them. By the sound of its press release, GlobalFoundries' non-AMD and non-IBM customers are more interested in continued long-term returns on the already-challenging transition to 14-nm FinFET than they are in weathering repeated and difficult transitions to future leading-edge nodes.

This move seems unlikely to harm AMD's hunger for next-generation silicon. While every Ryzen and Epyc CPU made today comes from Fab 8, the company's first 7-nm product—a Vega data-center GPU—is being fabricated at pure-play competitor TSMC. The company's next-generation server processors, code-named Rome, are also set to be fabricated in Taiwan, not at GloFo's Fab 8.

In any case, TSMC, Samsung, and Intel remain the only leading-edge foundries pursuing the outer limits of silicon fabrication after GlobalFoundries' exit. Only time will tell whether the race claims another victim.

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