Intel takes 22nm FPGA order from Achronix

First step towards becoming a cutting edge foundry?

INTEL IS SPENDING a lot of money on developing its manufacturing processes, although much of this is thanks to the money it makes on its microprocessors and of course some of its other product ranges. However, it now seems like Intel has finally decided to branch out and allow others to have access to its cutting edge manufacturing processes, as Intel has signed a deal with Achronix to make 22nm FPGA’s for the company.

Achronix is a fabless company that specialises in FPGA’s for use in networking, telecoms and various other niche markets where custom solutions are needed. The deal with Intel revolves around the Speedster 22i, an advanced FPGA family of products that will be available in a couple of different SKU’s. Achronix has added support for some very fast interfaces such as 19.9-28Gbps SerDes, 1-12.5Gbps SerDes, support for 10, 40 and 100Gbit Ethernet MACs and PCI Express Gen 1, 2 and 3. The Speedster 22i also supports DDR2 or DDR3 memory and it will be available as a High Performance 1.5GHz part and a High Density 750MHz part.

So what’s so special about this deal? Well, nothing much really, as it doesn’t tax Intel’s manufacturing to any real extent, as FPGA’s have a fairly limited appeal as not only are they expensive, but they’re usually not used for anything that’s mass produced due to the cost, but also due to the fact that they’re in general used as a development platform to work out how an actual chip would behave before it’s made. But it gets interesting when you start reading between the lines and Intel seems to be playing coy, as the company only put up a blog post about the whole deal rather than issuing a press release.

The blog post is by Bill Kircos and he’s not shying away from Intel’s lead in the industry “As many of you know, Intel enjoys a multi-year lead on manufacturing and process technology. Our factories or “fabs” are our prized possession” which is something of an understatement when you’re a process generation and a half ahead of the competition. He goes on to say “For perspective, this deal would only make up a tiny amount of our overall capacity, significantly less than one percent, and is not currently viewed as financially material to Intel’s earnings”. Why would Intel make something for a third party that wasn’t going to make them any significant amount of money?

It’s possible that it’s a way for Intel to fine tune its 22nm manufacturing process before it starts making its own chips at 22nm, or it could be a trial run of bigger things where Intel begins to manufacture chips on a large scale for other companies. The blog post goes on to say “Assuming Intel (and our customers) can find alignment to benefit and profit from a relationship like this, what’s your view of opening up our manufacturing doors to others? Let us know.” Now that’s the real kicker, as it suggests that Intel is seriously considering taking on clients in the not too distant future, something that it has never done before.  Does this mean they are under utilizing their capacity?  Does this mean their older fabs might see play in the near future?

When you spend $6-8 billion as a multi-year investment in your fabs, getting some other companies to take advantage of your advanced manufacturing processes might not be such a bad idea, as long as they’re willing to pay a premium price for what they get, as we doubt Intel will give away its latest manufacturing processes for free. For some companies it’s going to be a small price to pay to have access to the most advanced manufacturing processes available, just imagine what could’ve happened if a certain company could’ve had a large and toasty chip it launched a little while back made on a much more advanced manufacturing process, albeit at a higher cost, but hopefully greater yield and overall better working parts, maybe the world would’ve been slightly different today.S|A



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