Intel’s Foundry Business

Intel is starting to offer 3rd parties the opportunity to build chips on their cutting-edge “fabs.”  I’m not surprised to see this happening. With each new generation of fab, Intel has more transistors they have to sell in order to recoup their costs and get an ROI. Intel themselves haven’t been that great at creating products to sell those additional transistors. If they are going to keep investing in their process leadership, they have to find a way to pay for it. If they don’t keep investing in their process leadership, they are going to be disrupted by ARM and its licensees.

Intel is opening up its manufacturing facilities to third parties, as it takes the further tentative steps toward building a chip-to-order foundry business. The microprocessor giant announced last year that it would build FPGAs for Achronix Semiconductor, and on Tuesday a second FPGA designer, Tabula, said that it would have its chips built by Intel.

In its announcement, Tabula emphasized that it would be using Intels cutting-edge 22nm process with 3D trigate transistors. Intels manufacturing capabilities are world-leading, with none of the established microprocessor foundries—including TSMC, UMC, and AMD spin-off GlobalFoundries—able to match the companys process.

Compared to the 28 and 32nm processes offered by the competition, Intels 22nm process should offer higher speeds with lower power usage, at lower cost. The company will start shipping its first 22nm x86 processors, codenamed Ivy Bridge, in the coming months.

via Ars Technica.

Whether they can actually sell enough of their capacity without opening their fabs to competitors remains to be seen. At some level FPGAs already compete with Intel’s products, in that they take a different approach to creating general-purpose chips that can be used for a variety of applications.

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