Do you remember the days when a semiconductor product was multi-sourced and presented in standard packaging?
Standard packaging used to be basic through-hole products like DIPs and PGAs. In the 1990s, surface mount packaging became the new volume packaging, but components were still available in standard packaging configurations and, many times, were multi-sourced. When component engineers or supply chain personnel would order a semiconductor product, the packaging options were understood and well-known by everyone. This held true until about 10 years ago when flip-chip packaging came into play; as a result, products are no longer multi-sourced.
The days of standard packaging are long gone for the vast majority of active semiconductor products today. Differentiation of product lines in the marketplace is the only way to drive profits in a predominately commercial semiconductor market. Gone are the days when packagings of digital products were commodity packages or standard packages. Enter the world of custom substrates for flip-chip BGA packaging -- where every product has a unique substrate. Those BGA substrates are justified in volume only if the one unique product has enough demand. There is no longer cost-sharing across multiple products or semiconductor companies when it comes to flip-chip BGA substrates. Needless to say, the times have changed.
The flagship products of the two leading FPGA vendors (Xilinx and Altera) have been entirely flip-chip for the past decade. Intel, AMD, TI, NVidia, and Freescale have all gone flip-chip with their leading processors. Each of these products has a distinctive flip-chip BGA substrate, where the cost is entirely carried by the unique product. No other semiconductor company shares in the expense or the volume justification of any flip-chip BGA substrate. Flip-chip packaging has enabled much of the advanced data rates and power resolution for these leading products. Without the bond wires of the old product, we see 10 GB data rates and 40 W of power that can be dissipated on some of these advanced products.
Package obsolescence is becoming common today and will only increase in the future. At Rochester Electronics, we have seen many cases where the silicon can still be manufactured, but packaging must be re-created or brought back on-line. In more and more cases, original component manufacturers' (OCMs) end-of-life (EOL) and obsolescence decisions are based more on the packaging cost/availability than the availability of the silicon. It's the economics of unique/differentiated packaging. The semiconductor OCM's turned to flip-chip based on market demands for their feature set. The result is that "standard packaging" is no more, and package obsolescence will drive product EOL at a more frequent rate going forward.
This article was originally published on EBN's sister publication EE Times.