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NEC working with Fabio?

by Billy Berghammer - October 18, 1999, 5:22 pm PDT
Source: EETimes

Don't let this silly headline confuse you, NEC isn't teaming up with "I Can't Believe it's not Butter" spokesmodel.

No, but they are building a new fabrication facility to build the graphics chips and the high speed DRAM for the Dolphin. In the article EE Times they just use the word Fab quite a bit. :) Here's the beef....

TOKYO — NEC Corp. will construct a new fabrication facility to build a graphic chip and the embedded DRAM that Nintendo Co. Ltd. will use in its next-generation game console, code-named Dolphin.

NEC decided to build the fab after receiving an order from Nintendo for the chips. NEC expects to sell about $2.8 billion of the devices over the full life of Dolphin.

The fab will be built at NEC's facilities on Kyushu, an island in southern Japan. Construction will begin in November and operation is expected to begin next August. The line will have a capacity of 10,000 eight-inch wafers a month.

Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCE) is similarly building separate fabs to make the components that will power its Playstation 2 console, and Nintendo's Dolphin unit will likewise be a driving force of the company's and its supplier's semiconductor business. But Nintendo's business model differs from SCE's in that Nintendo will not take part in the fab investment. Instead, NEC alone will invest about $755 million in the fab. The investment will be included in NEC's budgets of fiscal 2000 and 2001. "We'll design the new line as a multiple product line. We'll operate the line at our discretion," said Kanji Sugihara, senior vice president of NEC. "That's why we invest all, with no Nintendo participation." The NEC line will be able to run the 0.13-micron UX4 process that NEC announced earlier this month, which was developed for system-on-chip devices.

Nintendo outlined the Dolphin structure this past May when it announced an alliance with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., from which it will obtain DVD technology, including copy protection. Dolphin will use a customized 400-MHz PowerPC that will be supplied by IBM Corp., a 200-MHz DRAM embedded graphic chip developed by ArtX Inc., and high-speed DRAM with a memory-bus bandwidth of 3.2 Gbytes per second. All these chips will be fabricated in a 0.18-micron process. NEC intends to eventually shift the line to 0.13-micron production using the UX4 process.

Hiroshi Yamashita, president of Nintendo, hinted in May that NEC would supply the graphics chip and high-speed DRAM for Dolphin. NEC has been supplying the core chips of the current-generation Nintendo 64 player, including the CPU, so the companies have already established a close relationship.

NEC will fabricate Nintendo's graphics chip and high-speed DRAM on the same line. The DRAM will be "an application specific memory" dedicated for use in Dolphin, said Keiichi Shimakura, associate senior vice president of NEC.

NEC executives provided little detail of the chips, but said the data-transfer rate of the DRAM would be 3.2 Gbytes/second, which is faster than Rambus. The 3.2-Gbyte rate is equal to that of Sony's Playstation 2, which will use Rambus as main memory.

NEC will first install the 0.13-micron UX4 process on a line of its Tsuruoka fab, located at NEC Yamagata in northern Japan, in the second half of its current fiscal year, which ends in March. The company will invest about $142 million on the line, which will begin fabrication using UX4 next April.

"Tsuruoka fab will be the main base of UX4 process technology, but we decided to make the No. 9 fab as the base of embedded DRAM devices," said Shimakura. The company's No. 9 fab will be equipped with optical scanners featuring KrF lithography to prepare for the UX4 process.

"The load of embedded DRAM chips on a line is heavy," said Shimakura. "It is impossible to make embedded DRAM chips on our existing lines. We need a new line."

The first target of the new fab is chips for Dolphin, but the line could be used for UX4-based chips in the future, Shimakura said.

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