For Achronix, the deal with Intel could be very significant. By beating Xilinx and Altera to the punch at 22-nm, executives say the Speedster22i family could put the company in position to compete for many more design sockets that currently go to standard cell ASICs.
Achronix is one of a number of promising FGPA startup companies that have emerged within the past few years, some of which have since shut their doors. Backed by more than $86 million in venture capital funding, Achronix gained notoriety for the speed of its original 65-nm Speedster family, which operated at a peak performance of 1.5 GHz, far greater than any other FPGAs.
But while Holt said the company has been hitting its internal goals, to date Achronix accounts for a very small percentage of the global programmable logic market. That market is dominated by Xilinx and Altera, which together have more than 85 percent market share.
Even with Intel's process technology, Holt said Achronix would not immediately pose a major threat to the big players. "Xilinx and Altera won't be worried about Achronix, initially," Holt said. "We'll just be the third billion dollar FPGA company soon."
Intel, like many semiconductor companies, once made its own programmable logic devices from the early 80s until the early 90s. There has at times been speculation that Intel would return to the programmable logic market, including a prediction early this year by JP Morgan analyst Christopher Danely that Intel could acquire Xilinx or Altera, which was widely dismissed.
While emphasizing that he could not speak for Intel, Holt said the deal "speaks to how important they [Intel] see FPGAs to the future of the semiconductor industry." But, Holt said, "If Intel wanted to be in the FPGA business they would be already. They certainly have the cash."
The relationship with Achronix could be a precursor to Intel eventually combining programmable logic with its Atom cores on the same die to create a new type of device. Earlier this year both Xilinx and Actel Corp. announced products that combined their programmable logic technology with hard ARM processor cores.
While acknowledging that the Intel deal is a "game changer" that improves Achronix' future prospects, Holt said the company was persevering anyway through a difficult period that has been making it hard on startups, controlling spending and achieving its goal for sales last year, which he described as "single digit millions." Holt said Achronix was originally planning to move from 65-nm directly to 28-nm and would have been taping out a 28-nm device at TSMC in the near future. However, he said, when the strategic agreement with Intel came about the company shifted gears and devoted investment to 22-nm design.
Achronix said the Speedster22i family would establish new standards for FPGAs in terms of size, performance, cost and power consumption. The family will offer devices with up to 2.5 million look up tables (LUTs), twice as many as any other FPGA, Achronix said. Because of Intel's process technology, the devices will also offer a cost advantage of more than 40 percent, according to the company. Like the previous generation of Speedster, the devices will also offer a peak performance of 1.5 GHz, 300 percent faster than other FPGAs, and consume 50 percent lower power, Achronix said.
Achronix plans to target Speedster22i to a wide range of applications in the telecommunication, networking, industrial and consumer markets. The devices will also appeal to emerging applications such as 100G, 400G Ethernet networking and LTE mobile communications, Achronix said.