To date, Intel has announced it is making chips in its 22-nm FinFET process for two FPGA startups, Achronix and Tablua, and network processor maker Netronome. Achronix officially started samplingits FPGAs based on Intel’s 22-nm technology last week, claiming it is two years ahead of competitors using TSMC.
Unconfirmed reports have said Intel could be making 22-nm ASICs for Cisco. Others said the PC chip giant may be working on a deal to make mobile processors for Apple, which is trying to reduce its foundry dependence on archrival Samsung.
Daane expressed confidence Intel will be able to meet Altera’s volume requirements
“Clearly this is a step up for us,” said an Intel spokesman. “We were proceeding slowly and cautiously [into the foundry business] and now we are increasing the pace,” he said.
Intel will have its 14-nm process in production later this year, the spokesman added. Globalfoundries announced last fall it plans to accelerate its road map, making a 14-nm process available some time in 2014.
The Altera deal “puts Intel out there as a contender in the foundry market,” said Joanne Itow, manufacturing analyst at Semico Research Corp.
Itow noted that TSMC founder Morris Chang listed Intel as a competitor in a recent conference call. Altera will get at least a one or two year advantage using Intel’s 14-nm process, Itow said, but she doubted the FPGA maker will be able to ship the parts until sometime in 2014.
It makes sense for Intel and Altera.
As you move into progressively smaller geometries, fewer foundries qualify. Altera wants to move to 14nm for new products. Who else *can* make them?
But as you move down into that range, the cost of building a fab rises into the ionosphere. Very few companies can afford to build them at all, and those that can want to be sure a substantial market is there for what the fabs will make.
The deal with Altera provides Intel with a chunk of revenue to help offset the design and construction costs of 14nm geometries, and Altera is not a direct competitor to Intel. The question is what Altera has in the pipeline that it might ask Intel to manufacture for them.
Intel is essentially in two businesses, design and manufacture. Competitors like ARM are in one: design. Intel has historically designed what it made, but as growth in the X86 market flattens, the question arises of what business will keep those oh so expensive foundries operating at capacity.
"It is not Intel's objective to become a general foundry service provider," sounds quite true, but they also need to keep the fabs turning out product and generating revenue 24/7 to justify having them. Juart filling in the corners and mopping up any idle capacity will be attractive.
I'm just wondering how firm Intel's insistence that while it *has* an ARM license, it doesn't intend to *use* it will remain. Intel *used* to make ARM CPUs via its former StrongARM division. If someone like Apple inquired about Intel making ARM CPUs at 14nm geometries for them, what do you suppose Intel might say? I can see the design side of the house turning colors and sputtering, and the manufacturing side calling the janitors to mop up the drool.
On the other hand, Intel has been one of the most reliable companies at consistently hitting their process milestones on time.
Then you add in the huge potential performance/cost advantage of a true 14nm node.
Those two things together likely equal a lot less risk to forward profits than counting on TSMC.
2) With Apple controlling the end product space, it makes sense to target them as a customer. Apple is a big customer to Intel already and while their processors could be considered competitive, they are not a competitor to Intel. That is not true at all of Qualcom who is definitely a competitor. Partnering with Qualcom would mean Intel abandoning a large future market space. That is just not going to happen.
3) Compared to overall Intel revenue, this portion of the market could be small, even at a 100 million+ units/year. A $10 processor at 100 million units is still only $1 billion. Yes a nice adder to the bottom line, but ultimately not huge dollars for a company of Intel's size. The question is whether yield and die size would offer enough cost savings to give them sufficient margin to justify the business. Also need to consider what portion of the power budget is processor and if the impact of Intel allows a premium charge.
Intel has an architectural license to ARM though they have stated in the past they will not use it.
The question for Intel sales and marketing is is this a good back door method for getting into those companies to sell their architecture?