SAN FRANCISCO—Programmable logic vendor Xilinx Inc. is poised for significant growth and could regain technology leadership from rival Altera at the 28-nm node after ceding Altera the advantage at the 40-nm node, according Wall Street analysts.
Hans Mosesmann, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets, wrote in a report circulated Tuesday (March 15) that Xilinx made a bold statement at its analyst meeting Monday about regaining leadership in FPGAs.
Xilinx is the market leader in programmable logic, with sales of about $2.3 billion for calendar 2010. Altera, which had 2010 sales of about $1.95 billion, beat Xilinx to the punch at 40-nm, offering products several months before its rival. Both companies have said they would be sampling their first 28-nm devices this quarter.
On Tuesday, Mosesmann said he and fellow FBR Capital Markets analysts were impressed with Xilinx' unified architecture approach at 28-nm. Xilinx is offering three classes of devices at 28-nm, moving for the first time to a unified, scalable architecture to enable customers to migrate 28-nm designs between the product families much more easily than has previously been possible.
To regain technology leadership from Altera at 28-nm, Xilinx would have to overcome challenges in terms of manufacturing, pushing the envelope with its new stacked silicon interconnect technology, integrating analog functional blocks in low-end segments and execution, Mosesmann said.
"Xilinx is attempting to do what normally would take two to three product cycles (six to eight years) in just two years," Mosesmann wrote. "Score a 10 for Xilinx in the chutzpah category in our book."
Christopher Danely an analyst with JP Morgan, concurred with Mosesmann that Xilinx could catch Altera at 28-nm.
"We believe Xilinx is at least in line or possibly even ahead of Altera in releasing products at this node as the company is now sampling its second 28-nm product, ahead of Altera, after sampling its first 28 nm product at the same time," Danely said in a report following the Xilinx analyst meeting.
Mosesmann said Xilinx' mid-range 28-nm device family, Kintex, looks to be a winner, given that the architecture is optimized for that segment. According to Xilinx, the mid-range is the fastest growing segment of the market.
At the high-end of the market, Xilinx' stacked silicon interconnect is both an innovation and a risk, given that it requires a new manufacturing process, Mosesmann said.
Mosesmann maintains an "outperform" rating on Xilinx' stock and a share price target of $40. Danely maintains an "overweight" rating on Xilinx, also with a $40 price target. Xilinx' stock closed at $31.37 Tuesday.
Ian Ing, an analyst with Gleacher & Co., said Xilinx highlighted at the analyst meeting the fact that it has design software available for all of its 28-nm product tiers, while Altera has only offered software for its high-end 28-nm Statix-V devices thus far. Ing said Xilinx' early software release was largely for existing customers and that any possibility of market share gain versus Altera or among users of ASICs and ASSPs only became more likely on March 8 when Xilinx released its ISE 13 design suite.
Ing said Gleacher analysts were surprised to see Xilinx' accelerated tapeout schedule in its fiscal year 2012, which begins late this month.
Ing also advised investors to ignore the differences in process technology between the two companies at 28-nm, saying the key was execution. Xilinx is using a high-performance, low-power process for all of its 28-nm devices, while Altera is using a high-performance process for high-end Statix-V devices and a low-power process for its mid- and low-tier products.
Ing maintains a "buy" rating and $40 price target on Xilinx' stock, but he cut his firm's estimates on Xilinx' 2012 earnings per share to $2.10 from $2.33 because of the R&D expenses associated with Xilinx' aggressive tapeout schedule.
First of all, Xilinx's "stacked" product is really not a true 3D vertical stack, a lateral one using interposers. This is not trivial either, in particular for FPGA's! The risk that article is referring to is minimal from a Silicon perspective given the design attributes Xilinx is using. There is probably more risk in the packaging part of it.
Both Xilinx and Altera both have been beaten by Tabula which uses 21-nm technology for FPGA's. Tabula is already sampling its products for the rapidly emerging networking chips in the 40Gig / 100Gig market space.
Dr. MP Divakar
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