Six hurdles Intel must clear to be a major foundry
5/1/2012 1:48 PM EDT
What are Intel's weaknesses as a foundry?
Clearly, Intel lacks experience of running fabs as foundries. "Intel can spend a lot of time with their current customer base to perfect the product because they don't have many customers," said the Semico analyst. "It'll take time to figure out their approach if their customer base expands to more than 10 customers."
Having laid out Intel's strengths and weaknesses as a foundry, we considered specific issues that potential customers may have with Intel as a foundry. Below are six things to keep in mind before jumping on the Intel's foundry bandwagon, six hurdles Intel must overcome if the company is truly committed to becoming a full-fledged foundry.
1. Transition to another process technology is painful
For chip vendors already familiar with a TSMC-compatible process, the most painful part of the transition will be from the current foundry to Intel. Persuading customers to switch to Intel's foundry won't be easy. "Moving to Intel means adjusting to a different process, new design rules. The transition will take time," explained Itow.
2. Intel's wafer cycle time
In reader feedback posted to our Achronix story, one "con" was that Intel''s wafer cycle time would increase if its fab reached maximum capacity. Itow said, "That is a common perception, but is not really any different than what is going on at TSMC today. The foundries have learned to live in feast-or-famine cycles. Allocation is something that foundries and their customers have learned to work around."
3. Intel's fab is fine-tuned for high volume production of a single product
This is the most cited concern industry players expressed about Intel as a foundry. "Intel has fine-tuned its production facilities for a high volume, single product focus. Foundries such as TSMC and Globalfoundries have to make a lot of different products for hundreds of customers," said Itow.
4. Support for third party IPs?
Then there are IP issues. "Foundry customers today require third party IP to support their SoCs and usually gain early access to tools, IP and design kits through the foundry," Itow said. Naturally, there are concerns. "Large customers may feel threatened by Intel's ability to control their access to capacity and technology," said Itow. Without question, that's a big problem for Intel. "As with Samsung, Intel will have to overcome any perceptions that Intel is a competitor," Itow added.
5. How open will Intel be?
"Today's foundry is well equipped to provide up-to-the-minute information on production status," observed the Semico analyst."Intel may not have the programs to keep their customers up to date on product yields, status, etc."
6. Will Intel be in the foundry business for the long haul?
This is $64,000 question. How serious is Intel about serving the semiconductor industry as a foundry? "Intel is known for entering into new markets, only to exit after a few years of dabbling," said Itow. "I'm sure Intel will serve existing customers, but whether this truly becomes a priority to Intel is yet to be seen," Itow said. Samsung has been working on their advanced technology logic foundry services for over six years, and when they started they were very clear about their goals and strategy, she added.