Why Intel should make chips for Apple, Cisco
12/3/2012 1:45 PM EST
SAN JOSE – To use Andy Grove’s well-worn phrase, Intel Corp. is at an inflection point. It’s time for the company to re-think what it wants to be in the next phase of its life.
One of its options is to strategically pivot. For years, Intel has led with an identity as a microprocessor designer that has great chip-making capabilities. Maybe it’s time to lead with its left foot. Intel could be one heck of a foundry that happens to have its own line of very successful products.
Face it, the market has shifted from the desktops Intel dominates to tablets and smartphones where it barely participates. But world-class semiconductor manufacturing is as valuable as ever, even as Moore’s Law slows.
Here, Intel is still tops. First with high-k metal gate transistors. First with FinFETs. Tons of capacity in leading-edge fabs all over the world. There’s little doubt it will be first to field the extreme ultraviolet lithography that is key to next-generation processes.
I’m not saying Intel should pull the plug on processors. It has a huge position with the x86 today and is doing a reasonable job playing catch up in the new game of SoCs. This is just a re-balancing. The corporate weight shifts from the front to the back foot.
I’m not alone in thinking this way. Jim Turley of Silicon Insider sees Intel’s x86 on a slooooow decline along with the PC market and says it’s time for a change. “Intel needs a piece of good news, something that shows they have caught on to next-generation products, not hoping PCs will make a comeback,” Turley said.
The shift may already be in the works. Intel has been making chips for a handful of mainly small FPGA companies for a couple years.
“I think they used those deals as training wheels, a trial run for a couple years before they would consider taking on some big customers,” Turley said,