Indeed, Intel is testing waters in both aspects, FPGA and foundry service provider. It could have worked with Achronix from a distance, letting them use TSMC as foundry, or completely acquired Achronix, as mentioned well.
Great comments guys, thanks. I can't figure this one out myself. You have raised some issues I considered, but I have questions about both.
@eewiz- If Intel's motivation here is to be back in the FPGA business, why do a strategic agreement and not just an acquisition? My first thought was that this was the first step toward an acquisition, but then I wondered, why not just pull the trigger? As Achronix CEO John Lofton Holt pointed out, if Intel wanted to be in the FPGA business, they would be. They would buy Achronix and/or another FPGA startup with (what is for Intel) loose change. So if that's the goal, why wouldn't they just do it?
@resistion- In my opinion, this is more about the strategic importance of programmable logic than it is about Intel going into the foundry business. I think if Intel wanted to go into the foundry business, the company would make a big PR push and announce a division called Intel Foundry Services or something like that. If this was just about Intel generating some extra revenue through foundry work, I just don't think they would start with Achronix, which is, for all of its promising technology, a pretty small player. If Intel wanted to go foundry, there are dozens of other chip companies they could have started with that would generate more revenue. (For that matter, why not start with Xilinx or Altera?)
My bet is this (my colleague Brian Fuller first suggested this to me and I think he is right): This is the first step to an eventual offering that pairs programmable logic with an Atom core in the mold of Actel's SmartFusion and the forthcoming Xilinx chips, both of which offer programmable logic and a hard ARM core.
Yeah I think going foundry was inevitable path for Intel, as it sees its bread and butter PC business model overwhelmed by apple-driven smartphone business model. Samsung also found it inevitable to relieve itself from the virtually suicidal memory market death spiral.
Woa! Big Blow to Xilinx and Altera. The only reason I could see for Intel to do this is an Acquisition. As TingLu pointed out, Intel would have already reached an agreement with Achronix that they would buyout the FPGA startup later on. But then the question is why would Intel want to get into FPGA business!! Already they have many things to figure out with McAfee and Infineon WLS acquisition.