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According to a report from Pacific Crest Securities, the world’s number one contract semiconductor manufacturer will begin shipping its first chips made using 0.11 micron process in the first quarter next year, while the volume ramp is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2003.

“TSMC will begin shipping 0.11 micron wafers in Q1 (of 2004), with volume ramps beginning in Q2,” said Michael McConnell, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities in the report released Wednesday, 29th of October, quoted by EE Times. “The company will beat its competitors to the market and will benefit from higher ASPs. 90nm production will begin in the second half of 2004.”

In mid-2002 leading contract semiconductor makers promised to roll-out their 90nm fabrication process by the end of that year, but failed. In March TSMC announced the further push of its risk production using 90nm technology into the late second or early third quarter 2003, while the mass-production of 90nm circuits was slated to begin in the first half of 2004.

In June 2003 TSMC released its Reference Flow 4.0 – industry’s first complete design flow responding specifically to 130 and 90nm design challenges and featuring dual physical implementation tracks built around commercial EDA tools primarily from Synopsys and Cadence Design Systems. Reference Flow 4.0 provides IC design teams with the flexibility to tap into TSMC’s recommended design methodologies independent of tool preferences, while directly addressing technical challenges related to designing at 0.13 micron and 90nm.

0.11 micron technology has never been announced by TSMC officially and at this point there is absolutely no information about the fabrication process. Though, we do know that TSMC’s 0.13 micron and 90nm processes called Nexsys do not have a lot of similarities. As a result, we cannot make any conclusions about the state of 0.11 process – whether it is a more advanced 0.13 micron technology, or a bit simplified 90nm process.

On the other hand, there were indications about a 0.11 micron technology to be used by Markham, Ontario-based ATI Technologies.

“We do not have any problems with 0.13 margins. Actually, it is the opposite. We want to go into 0.13 and 0.11 very aggressively. If it was creating pressure, I do not think we would be banging our heads against the wall,” KY Ho – the CEO of ATI –told Reuters in an interview during Computex Taipei 2003 trade-show.

We may suggest that TSMC’s 0.11 micron process will be intended for developers of complex chips, such as graphics processors, designed by large firms, like ATI or NVIDIA. Furthermore, in case the CEO of the ATI speaks about a rapid transition to the 0.11 micron technology, this may mean there are no issues with tangible design changes compared to 0.13 micron chips.

We may expect ATI to start making some chips using 0.11 micron starting from late Q1 or early Q2 provided that the company experiences no issues with process itself. Keep in mind that the report from Pacific Crest Securities does not have any indications about risk productions, while semiconductor companies do start to commercially make some chips at the “risk” stage sometimes.

Since ATI’s code-named R420 and R423 VPUs made at 0.13 micron process are set to come in around February or March, there will hardly be a point to quickly adopt 0.11 micron technology for these chips. Therefore, do not expect ATI to release anything massive on 0.11 micron technology before mid to late third quarter at the earliest. One of the first ATI’s chips made using 0.11 micron technology may be R450, probably Fall 2004 refresh for R420. However, in case ATI sticks to its cautious policy, the company may make use of TSMC’s 0.11 micron fabrication technology only for its less complex mainstream parts expected to emerge around the mid-2004 or later and use the 0.11 micron process for the high-end chips later than that.

There is no information about NVIDIA’s intention to produce chips using 0.11 micron process.

The details of future graphics processors from ATI Technologies mentioned herein were not confirmed or denied by officials from ATI Technologies.

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