AMD's Deathstar Carries on Pulsing

Only real men have debts

Focus on Fabs Some time back, and after we'd visited AMD's Fab 30 plant in Dresden, we learnt that a few PC manufacturers and distributors were calling the wafer factory the Deathstar.

This is because at the time they were so thoroughly fed up with Intel launching CuMine (Coppermine) technology that they couldn't source, that they wanted the brooding picture of Fab 30 to remind Chipzilla that the game was now a little bit evened up.

AMD has had so many questions to answer about Fab 30, that it has produced a FAQ on the subject.

There's one thing about AMD Dresden that we must never forget, and that is the Dresden Loan Agreements, which involves infamous "revolving lines of credit".

Although AMD has executed practically faultlessly on its strategy mostly, it has to be said, to Atiq Raza, Vin Dham, and Dana Krelle -- ex-Inteleers who are now ex-AMDers -- it is in terrible hock because building state of the art fabs is an expensive business.

As Jerry Sanders III once memorably observed: "Only real men have fabs" - a rather derogatory reference to good ol' Cyrix as was. But to be a real man you need loads of money, and if you don't have this in the bank like wot Intel has, you need to borrow it. Whether Sanders also uttered the equally memorable phrase "Only real men have huge debts", history does not record.

But the debt factor, and the way AMD has clawed its way into the desktop market with its Athlon processors, has given rise to endless speculation that 1) AMD is ripe for takeover (usually IBM), and 2) is about to enter into a strategic relationship with another big chip firm.

Over the last two weeks, we've heard that the next fab it builds in 2004 will be a joint venture between it and TSMC, UMC, and Mitsubishi. Tight-lipped spoon doctors say they can't possibly comment on any of this - but if any such deal is in the offing, expect it round about the time shareholders need an extra boost.

Dresden used to be part of East Germany, and was famous long before the RAF's 'Bomber' Harris unleashed a firestorm in the Second World War which US serviceman Kurt Vonnegut witnessed and wrote up in Slaughterhouse Five.

135,000 citizens of Dresden died in that holocaust, and the raid also destroyed a German city which was considered one of the most beautiful in Europe.

When we visited Dresden some time back, we noted that Soviet and East German propaganda that the entire city had been rebuilt in its pristine state was a Big Fib. There's still a lot of reconstruction to do and you still see street names such as Karl Marx Strasse.

But AMD's Fab 30 is a sign that a new Dresden is now underway. Just a way away from AMD's site is an Infineon fabrication plant which makes 12-inch wafers, and these, and other developments, are providing an impetus to scientific and technical employment in the area.

AMD is, believe it or believe it not, in some ways more paranoid than Intel, and would not allow us anywhere near its cleanroom. But inside there and in the design centre closeby, there are copper whoppers and other high speed technologies being developed in spades.

And while paranoia is part of the semiconductor industry's culture, AMD is, at least, a little more open about the capacity (if not yields) of its factories. The AMD site has chapter and verse about capacities. ®

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