Globalfoundries' mystery news tour

10 March 2010

If there is one warning sign of trouble ahead for a company it’s Irrational Cash-Splash Syndrome. The symptoms are a sudden need to spend money on promotion, often organising press trips at short notice with an invitation list that makes people wonder “what’s going on here?” The condition is very close to Last Roll of the Dice Syndrome.

The latest victim of the symptom seems to be GlobalFoundries which decided to organise a tour of its Dresden fab this week for a small group of journalists while a larger group attending a conference on chip design just a few kilometres down the road had no idea it was going on. It was only a chance encounter in Dresden during the DATE conference yesterday that clued me in.

I met an old colleague who I hadn’t expected to see here in days of tight budgets, and who took the opportunity for a free half day or so to go to the conference before being pulled back into the Globalfoundries agenda. We were both a bit surprised about the invite list.

The weird thing about the Globalfoundries Secret-Squirrel trip to Dresden is that people who definitely weren’t going to DATE got the fab-tour invite. Those who had let the organisers know they were going to Dresden didn’t hear from Globalfoundries.

Why the company decided to organise a press event against a major conference attended by companies who Globalfoundries wants as customers — and therefore journalists writing for newspapers specialising in chip design — is itself a mystery. It would have been relatively simple to do it on the Monday so that people heading to DATE could do both or even do a press conference at the DATE venue. The Dresden foundry has been there for a while — all the new stuff iswas going into New York. The arrangement the company chose is just plain bizarre might be symbolic but it didn’t please a lot of people.

The timing may be related to TSMC’s recent Executive Forum in Japan. There is certainly a lot of propaganda being aimed at customers over whether the top foundries have made the right choice in how to build high-k, metal-gate transistors. Intel and TSMC opted for gate-last and TSMC is telling whoever will listen that everybody will pick gate-last eventually even if they’re doing gate-first right now. Globalfoundries, which has a pressing need to find a customer base as former parent AMD puts a break on its manufacturing spend, is in the other, gate-first camp. The last thing it needs is FUD.