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Signs point to NXP going fab-lite on mixed-signals

Posted: 09 Mar 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NXP fab-lite? mixed-signal? CMOS? R&D? digital IC?

With NXP closing down wafer fabs ICH in Hamburg, Germany and ICN5 in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and announcing plans to close ICN6 by early-to-mid 2011, the fab-lite movement is gathering pace at the chip company.

And the conventional wisdom that fab-lite is a strategy that outsources leading-edge digital CMOS to avoid R&D and capital expenditure costs but keeps analog and mixed-signal IC manufacture in-house because design, performance and process are intimately linked, also seems to be going away at NXP.

Now that NXP has moved its DTV and STB businesses into Trident Microsystems Inc., NXP has reduced its direct interest in digital ICs. But increasingly NXP is also coming to rely on outsourcing for its mixed-signal IC manufacturing.

According to senior executives at NXP the C14 mixed-signal process, which offers 140nm minimum geometries, is likely to remain the work-horse internal process technology for the foreseeable future. NXP also designs to a 90nm mixed-signal process it calls C90 for external manufacture and on occasion uses a 65nm RF CMOS process that it labels C65, which is again a process that NXP cannot manufacture internally.

C14 might undergo a shrink or two down to 120nm or 110nm minimum geometries but will essentially remain the same for a number of years, executives said. At the same time is unlikely that NXP will bring the C90 or C65 processes in-house. More likely is the addition of options to extend NXP's high-performance mixed-signal process at above 100nm.

"A large part of our applications fit very well on 140nm," said Rene Penning de Vries, chief technology officer with NXP. "We are considering our next step to push the envelope," he added.

Going fabless?
Some observers are distrustful of the fab-lite model and suggest that it merely puts a gloss on what is effectively a slow and steady move to fabless status. And the same observers point out that when demand for ICs exceeds supply companies that rely on external manufacturing may found themselves unable to source their silicon or having to pay high prices.

Nonetheless the opportunity to reduce R&D costs and capital expenditure seems to make that a price many companies are willing to pay.

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