Apple buys former Maxim chip fab in North San Jose, neighboring Samsung Semiconductor

Posted:
in AAPL Investors edited December 2015
Apple just paid $18.2 million for a small 70,000 square foot silicon chip fab, formerly owned by Samsung, located in North San Jose, California, about a 20 minute drive from its current Infinite Loop headquarters in Cupertino.


Former Maxim plant, via Apple Maps


According to a report by Nathan Donato-Weinstein of the Silicon Valley Business Journal, the building had been operated by Maxim Integrated Products as a low volume manufacturing facility and supported process technology development.

Maxim closed the "X3" facility in July. It had originally acquired the plant from Samsung back in 1997. It sits next to a new 10-story building now under construction by Samsung Semiconductor, and is surrounded by buildings used by Cisco and a variety of other network and semiconductor firms.

Maxim marketed the property for use as an operational fab, noting that it would be "well suited for prototype, pilot, and low-volume manufacturing."

The listing agent added, "this facility is capable of producing a wide array of products at multiple technology nodes ranging from 600nm to 90nm, with the bulk of production from 350nm to 180nm."

The property also included "a complete tool line consisting of 197 well-maintained front-end tools from such OEMs as AMAT, Hitachi, Novellus, LAM, TEL, KLA, and ASML."

Apple's core production of chips used in Macs and iOS devices is manufactured by a broad range of partners, including Samsung, Intel, Broadcom, Texas Instruments and many others, typically at far more advanced process nodes than the newly acquired site is capable of delivering. However, the relatively small fab could allow the company to prototype new chip designs or perform other "heavy R&D" activities, including custom tools for developing and testing its products at other sites.

By way of comparison, the Samsung ARM chips used in the original iPhone and 3G were built using a 90nm process, while the iPhone 3GS used 65nm technology. Apple's latest iPhone 6s uses 14-16nm A9 chips, although other supporting chips are often manufactured with less advanced fab technology in order to save money. For example, last year's M8 motion coprocessor was manufactured at a 90nm process.

Near Apple's other new campus site in San Jose



Ten minutes' drive down the road (or four stops on the VTA light rail train) south from the former Maxim plant, Apple has pieced together another 86 acres of land in San Jose, including undeveloped land formerly owned by Lowe and the 101 Tech campus that formerly served as the headquarters for semiconductor manufacturer Atmel.

Apple hasn't yet submitted plans for the site, which sits just north of San Jose's Mineta International airport and has a direct VTA connection to downtown San Jose.

Apple did issue a statement by email saying, "as we continue to grow, we're planning to build R&D facilities and some additional office space in San Jose. The property isn't far from the future home of our new campus and we're looking forward to expanding our presence in the Bay Area."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 23
    mcarlingmcarling Posts: 1,106member
    A surprising move.  Perhaps the purpose is to aid in the development of chip designs in secrecy.  Simulation provides most of the feedback in the design loop, but needs to be validated in silicon from time to time.
    fastasleep
  • Reply 2 of 23
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,394moderator
    Hmm, what context would be suitable for lower production runs of chips built on less advanced nodes, meaning they would be slower and require more power?  Well, a car might have need of a bunch of processing to interpret signals collected from analog systems and sensors, and a car has power to spare for its microprocessors, so its chips wouldn't need to be optimized for power efficiency.  And cars are built in the 100s of thousands per year, low volumes in context of chip production.  And that facility would keep those chips and their purpose under wraps for longer than if Aplle needed to work with partners on them, allowing the company to maintain secrecy around the automotive project.  

    edited December 2015 1983
  • Reply 3 of 23
    sockrolidsockrolid Posts: 2,789member
    I just hope they didn't buy the magazine too.
    radarthekat1983fotoformat
  • Reply 4 of 23
    calicali Posts: 3,494member
    Hmm, what context would be suitable for lower production runs of chips built on less advanced nodes, meaning they would be slower and require more power?  Well, a car might have need of a bunch of processing to interpret signals collected from analog systems and sensors, and a car has power to spare for its microprocessors, so its chips wouldn't need to be optimized for power efficiency.  And cars are built in the 100s of thousands per year, low volumes in context of chip production.  And that facility would keep those chips and their purpose under wraps for longer than if Aplle needed to work with partners on them, allowing the company to maintain secrecy around the automotive project.  

    I don't think so. Why not use advanced chips when they're available to you?  By the time AppleCar is released Apple will have A11 chips available at the least.

    This is interesting though, I thought this was news of them acquiring a huge chip facility to drop Sammy. You could be right but I don't see why a company like Apple with the most efficient chips in the world would use 15 year old chip tech(in 2018-2021). I don't see their next big thing being old-school either.
  • Reply 5 of 23
    sockrolid said:
    I just hope they didn't buy the magazine too.
    /rimshot
  • Reply 6 of 23
    So is Apple acquiring the tooling line as well or just the building/land?
  • Reply 7 of 23
    cali said:
    Hmm, what context would be suitable for lower production runs of chips built on less advanced nodes, meaning they would be slower and require more power?  Well, a car might have need of a bunch of processing to interpret signals collected from analog systems and sensors, and a car has power to spare for its microprocessors, so its chips wouldn't need to be optimized for power efficiency.  And cars are built in the 100s of thousands per year, low volumes in context of chip production.  And that facility would keep those chips and their purpose under wraps for longer than if Aplle needed to work with partners on them, allowing the company to maintain secrecy around the automotive project.  

    I don't think so. Why not use advanced chips when they're available to you?  By the time AppleCar is released Apple will have A11 chips available at the least.

    This is interesting though, I thought this was news of them acquiring a huge chip facility to drop Sammy. You could be right but I don't see why a company like Apple with the most efficient chips in the world would use 15 year old chip tech(in 2018-2021). I don't see their next big thing being old-school either.
    An A11 chip won't power a car. You need controllers for all sorts of things that need dedicated monitoring. And they need to be networked with elliptical curve encryption. Yes - an A11 overlord. But you don't need that much power for everything.

    In fact...screw the A11 overlord. Plug your iPhone in. It controls your car and is your key.
    edited December 2015
  • Reply 8 of 23
    And then there's this:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-15/apple-said-to-open-secret-lab-in-taiwan-to-develop-displays

    Apple Inc. opened a production laboratory in northern Taiwan where engineers are developing new display technologies, according to people with knowledge of the facility.

    The Apple building in Longtan has at least 50 engineers and other workers creating new screens for devices including iPhones and iPads, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details aren’t public. Apple has recruited from local display maker AU Optronics Corp. and Qualcomm Inc., which used to own the building, the people said.

    Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Apple in Cupertino, California, declined to comment.

    Apple began operating the lab this year as it aims to make products thinner, lighter, brighter and more energy-efficient. Engineers are developing more-advanced versions of the liquid-crystal displays currently used in iPhones, iPads and Mac personal computers, the people said. Apple also is keen to move to organic light-emitting diodes, which are even thinner and don’t require a backlight, they said.


  • Reply 9 of 23
    calicali Posts: 3,494member
    cali said:
    Hmm, what context would be suitable for lower production runs of chips built on less advanced nodes, meaning they would be slower and require more power?  Well, a car might have need of a bunch of processing to interpret signals collected from analog systems and sensors, and a car has power to spare for its microprocessors, so its chips wouldn't need to be optimized for power efficiency.  And cars are built in the 100s of thousands per year, low volumes in context of chip production.  And that facility would keep those chips and their purpose under wraps for longer than if Aplle needed to work with partners on them, allowing the company to maintain secrecy around the automotive project.  

    I don't think so. Why not use advanced chips when they're available to you?  By the time AppleCar is released Apple will have A11 chips available at the least.

    This is interesting though, I thought this was news of them acquiring a huge chip facility to drop Sammy. You could be right but I don't see why a company like Apple with the most efficient chips in the world would use 15 year old chip tech(in 2018-2021). I don't see their next big thing being old-school either.
    An A11 chip won't power a car. You need controllers for all sorts of things that need dedicated monitoring. And they need to be networked with elliptical curve encryption. Yes - an A11 overlord. But you don't need that much power for everything.

    In fact...screw the A11 overlord. Plug your iPhone in. It controls your car and is your key.
    Either way, I don't see Apple using outdated tech in their industry disruptor. Today's cars are dumb, I expect a load of tech in their Car, making it the first smart car.

    iPhone as a key and dashboard/infotainment sounds terrible honestly.
  • Reply 10 of 23
    mcarlingmcarling Posts: 1,106member
    Hmm, what context would be suitable for lower production runs of chips built on less advanced nodes, meaning they would be slower and require more power?


    No doubt Apple will toss all the equipment for making outdated chips.  It's normal for a fab to get all the masking, etching, and other critical equipment replaced a few times during its lifetime.
  • Reply 11 of 23
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,630member
    Could Apple be looking at this for production of a one of the new types of Non-volitile RAM?

    Apple with it's own fab could license and build their own supply of new technologies that would suit them avoiding the need to wait for commercial fabs to start production. A memory that has no refresh cost has got to have a good effect on battery life on tiny devices like the watch. 


  • Reply 12 of 23
    ksecksec Posts: 1,567member
    mattinoz said:
    Could Apple be looking at this for production of a one of the new types of Non-volitile RAM?

    Apple with it's own fab could license and build their own supply of new technologies that would suit them avoiding the need to wait for commercial fabs to start production. A memory that has no refresh cost has got to have a good effect on battery life on tiny devices like the watch. 


    Those Non-Volitile RAM are still much better node then this one. Currently the cheapest node is 28nm, while some industry expert believe this 28nm will be the cheapest for a long time. I think both Intel and TSMC has shown a further refined 14/16nm FinFET is theoretically possible to be more cost competitive then 28nm. We dont know how we could do that yet with 10nm and 7nm, so the current roadmap has shown those two will be expensive. But may be time will tell as technology improves, not to mention we still have yet to migrate to 450mm wafers. ( 7nm could be a good candidate for that )

    The article suggest M8, but M8 is now full integrated within the Apple SoC. I have no idea why Apple would want to do this, apart from simply, secrecy. They cant even trust their TSMC or Samsung partner to have their design.      
  • Reply 13 of 23
    cali said:
    Either way, I don't see Apple using outdated tech in their industry disruptor. Today's cars are dumb, I expect a load of tech in their Car, making it the first smart car.

    iPhone as a key and dashboard/infotainment sounds terrible honestly.

    You don't need cutting edge tech to monitor a system. You do need custom hardware that makes monitoring (and encryption) the focus of that chip. Custom software too. Anyone know if this foundry did SoC?

    If you have to plug your iPhone in, you can't text-n-drive...
  • Reply 14 of 23
    Hmm, what context would be suitable for lower production runs of chips built on less advanced nodes, meaning they would be slower and require more power?  Well, a car might have need of a bunch of processing to interpret signals collected from analog systems and sensors, and a car has power to spare for its microprocessors, so its chips wouldn't need to be optimized for power efficiency.  And cars are built in the 100s of thousands per year, low volumes in context of chip production.  And that facility would keep those chips and their purpose under wraps for longer than if Aplle needed to work with partners on them, allowing the company to maintain secrecy around the automotive project.  

    The chips in an EV do need to be optimized for power efficiency.
    In the future, you may see EVs try to regenerate power from Solar and Wind in order to extend their range.
    Like Apple said, this is for R&D and with 200 Billion in the bank Apple can easily upgrade the plant for 14/16nm process if needed.
  • Reply 15 of 23
    Can't figure out why Apple would want a Fab from a company that didn't build cell phones.

    https://www.maximintegrated.com/en/solutions/automotive/automotive-systems.html


    AUTOMOTIVE SYSTEMS

    Description

    Maxim offers systems solutions for a wide range of automobile applications including voltage regulators, video transport ICs, RF transceivers, and much more. Click the block diagram tab to view ICs recommended for use in automotive systems.

    radarthekat
  • Reply 16 of 23
    mcarlingmcarling Posts: 1,106member
    ksec said:

    I have no idea why Apple would want to do this, apart from simply, secrecy. They cant even trust their TSMC or Samsung partner to have their design.       

    It's one thing to let one's manufacturing partner have one's design during production.  It's another thing to let one's manufacturing partner have it during design and development.  The difference could be a year or more.

    I believe Apple's new small fab will be used either solely for design validation or to gain experience operating a fab before taking all of Apple's custom silicon production in house. 
  • Reply 17 of 23
    Hmm, what context would be suitable for lower production runs of chips built on less advanced nodes, meaning they would be slower and require more power?  Well, a car might have need of a bunch of processing to interpret signals collected from analog systems and sensors, and a car has power to spare for its microprocessors, so its chips wouldn't need to be optimized for power efficiency.  And cars are built in the 100s of thousands per year, low volumes in context of chip production.  And that facility would keep those chips and their purpose under wraps for longer than if Aplle needed to work with partners on them, allowing the company to maintain secrecy around the automotive project.  


    May be used to Prototyping functionality (rather than the chip itself); so they they need a chip, but its speed or even heat is less important than its function. At least initially in the first phase.

    If they're devellopping a car and need a few hundreds of of few dozen chips; they don't want to send these out to be done externally (especially with the chances of leaks).
  • Reply 18 of 23
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,025member
    Hmm, what context would be suitable for lower production runs of chips built on less advanced nodes, meaning they would be slower and require more power?  Well, a car might have need of a bunch of processing to interpret signals collected from analog systems and sensors, and a car has power to spare for its microprocessors, so its chips wouldn't need to be optimized for power efficiency.  And cars are built in the 100s of thousands per year, low volumes in context of chip production.  And that facility would keep those chips and their purpose under wraps for longer than if Aplle needed to work with partners on them, allowing the company to maintain secrecy around the automotive project.  

    Those nodes are mostly used for analog chips. I suppose they could be used for digital as well, but it would need an expensive upgrade for any serious work.
    edited December 2015
  • Reply 19 of 23
    ksec said:
    I have no idea why Apple would want to do this, apart from simply, secrecy. They cant even trust their TSMC or Samsung partner to have their design.       

    Can you blame them?
  • Reply 20 of 23
    Maxim Integrated's website also discusses their chip applications for wearable Health monitoring.
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