Monthly Archives: September 2012

How to Obtain ASIC Turnkey Services from TSMC and GLOBALFOUNDRIES?

Pure-play foundries are offering vanilla flavor services, meaning one can buy only wafers. ASIC design, testing, packaging and supply chain services are not part of their service offering.


Large IDM players, who manage their own supply chain, seek this type of engagement because they prefer to own the supply chain in order to get better control over price and quality. IDMs usually buy untested-wafers and use different assembly houses to perform both assembly and test.  They manage the entire supply chain internally.


However, if you belong to a smaller company, or a system house, you may not want to deal with supply chain issues and prefer to focus on your core competencies rather than deal with manufacturing challenges. Which means, you’ll be looking for a subcontractor to run and manage your entire ASIC supply chain.


Both TSMC and GLOBALFOUNDRIES are engaged with several official partners to offer supply chain services. These subcontractors offer different services which are translated to different value proposition. It’s up to you to select the right ecosystem for your ASIC project.


So, if you wish to buy a full turnkey solution based on one of the top two pure-play foundries you may want to contact one of their authorized partner which is focused on providing full turnkey services — delivering good-tested ICs.


In this post I will focus on the two big fabs: TSMC and GLOBALFOUNDRIES.


TSMC’s Partner Program


TSMC established a VCA (Value Channel Aggregator) partner program that is a region based: USA, Europe and APAC. Every region has a few partners that can help customers with wafer sourcing, package, test, supply chain and often some design services and IPs.


Some partners have permission to operate worldwide but others are strictly limited to specific areas. But they all can assist with TSMC related services that vary from MPW to full ASIC production services that includes ASIC design, layout and IP integration.





There are 7 VCA members:




Open-Silicon – click here for more details



Inomize – click here for more details





GLOBALSOLUTIONS program was estblished in 2010 and is GLOBALFOUNDRIES ecosystem that combines the company’s internal resources with a broad spectrum of partners. GLOBALSOLUTION is a relativily new partner program which was introducted when GLOBALFOUNDRIES was officialy born, therefore the number of partners in the program is lower than TSMC’ VCA program but will have to increase in order to offer more flexibility to the customers.



eSilicon —

Open-Silicon —

Hitachi ULSI —


VeriSilicon —


Partner’s Ecosystem


Some of the direct, authorized partners have decided to establish their own ecosystem which extend their value proposition. The ecosystem is still authorized, and you may meet new suppliers that can provide either TSMC or GLOBALSOLUTION technologies which are not listed here but do collaborate with them.




In the long run, other Pure-play foundries will need to create and support an ecosystem for their full turnkey customers, TSMC’s VCA program is a good example for a flexible and comprehensive solution that can be easily copied by other foundries. GLOBALFOUNDRIES which is relatively a new company, has already established an ecosystem and will continue expanding the presence and competitiveness via partners.


Have we missed YOU from TSMC and GLOBALFOUNDRIES partner list? please let us know.


Understanding Maskset Type – MPW, MLM, MLR and Single-Maskset

Tapeout is a major milestone in every ASIC project lifecycle. It means the design phase is completed and you are ready to send out the GDSII to the fab for production.

The term “tapeout” was coined in 70’s. Historically, engineered used a magnetic tape to store all the ASIC design files. The event of carrying out the tape to the foundry was thus called “tapeout”.

Before wafer production can start, a Maskset needs to be ready. Foundries have mask making partners and use them to produce masksets optimized for project requirements.

Creation of a maskset is often the most expensive NRE-related cost in ASIC production.

Typically, foundries provide 3 types of maskset services (see the drawing below for more details).


MPW – Multi-project wafer

If you have any doubts about your design functionality or performance, MPW service will help you lower the risk involved with a costly dedicated maskset. MPW process’s goal is to help customers get samples of their ASIC (or IP) before taping out using MLM or Full Maskset. The outcome of MPW process is bare dies, with the number of dies varying between the different fabs and process nodes. The MPW maskset consists of various projects from different customers. Distributing the maskset price among projects drive the cost down, the typical price of MPW shuttle is 90% of full maskset price.

MPW shuttle starts on specific dates. Ask your fab about MPW schedules and how often it occurs.


MLM – Multi Layer Mask

MLM (Multi Layer Mask) or MLR (Multi Layer Reticle) services help reduce the tapeout NRE cost (full maskset cost). This method allows combining up to 4 masks into one, and hence reducing the total number of masks that need to be created. As the number of masks is reduces — the NRE reduced as well.

What is the catch with MLM? The drawback is the wafer price. While the NRE price decreases — the wafer price increases. Therefore MLM is recommended for projects that require low or medium production volume.

You can think of MLM as a financial service. You pay lower NRE (vs. full maskset), but on the other hand, you pay a higher wafer price. If you know your production projection it’s very easy to calculate whether to use MLR or Full Maskset. The decision here is pure economic.

Foundries do not like MLM. It slows down their production throughput. Therefore – ask you fab if they support MLM.


Full Maskset or Single Maskset

Full maskset uses the most optimized masks for production volume. This is the real thing.



I hope this article explains the difference between Full maskset, MLR and MPW shuttle and you are able to select the right tapeout for your project. Tapeout is normally a very stressed and exciting period; don’t forget that tapeout is also a good cause for celebration.