SAN JOSE, Calif. – Intel will let Altera make FPGAs in its 14nm FinFET process in a deal that turns up the heat on TSMC in foundry and Xilinx in high-end FPGAs. The deal marks the largest of a string of publicly disclosed foundry deals for Intel to date--and its first at 14 nm--but is not expected to result in products until 2014.
Altera declined to disclose details of the deal including what products it will make when. However, Altera chief executive John Daane did say he believes Intel is two to four years ahead of other foundries with its 14 nm FinFET process which Altera will use initially to give its highest-end FPGAs advantages in density, performance and power.
High end parts make up about half the FPGA market, with Altera claiming a lead with 40 and 28 nm parts that it aims to extend with the new Intel process. Besides winning more business away from rivsal Xilinx, the 14 nm parts could help Altera grab more sockets away from ASICs and application-specific standard devices, Daane said.
Intel promised access to the 14 nm process for 12 years to satisfy long term availability requirements of defense and other customers, Daane said. The multi-year deal allows Altera to use other existing and future nodes, but the FPGA maker initially will focus on high-end parts at 14 nm, he said.
Using multi-die chip stacks Altera currently ships an FPGA that packs 1.2 million logic elements, lagging a similar chip from Xilinx with two million units. However such parts have relatively high costs and power and take a performance hit due to additional on-chip communications. They are used “for prototyping predominantly—it’s a niche,” Daane said.
Altera surveyed foundries for a year before striking the deal with Intel. It will continue to make chips at TSMC and conduct ongoing evaluations of other processes as they develop.
Daane sited reports that other foundries are grafting a first-generation of FinFETs on to existing 20 nm design rules to create what they are calling a 14 nm node. “Intel’s 14 nm is a second generation FinFET process while others are just starting to implement their first,” he said.
The deal is "a significant departure for Altera," said Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Seymore who said he didn't expect Altera to recoup revenue based on it until 2015. The move also nis "a validation of Intel's manufacturing leadership" and "should help Intel make gains in foundry services," he added.
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