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TSMC Versus Intel?

TSMC Versus Intel?
by Daniel Nenni on 11-07-2010 at 7:18 pm

The big announcement last week was Intel opening up its 22nm manufacturing facilities to an outside company. Even better it’s an FPGA company. There are literally hundreds of write ups on this landmark event so it is definitely blog worthy. But what does it really mean? I have read (5) possibilities:

(1) Intel enters the FPGA business
(2) Intel enters the foundry business
(3) Intel ramps advanced processes with FPGA technology
(4) Intel adds FPGA muscle to Atom
(5) Intel wants Achronix asynchronous logic IP

EETimes actually did a nice write-up here, so I will skip the press release stuff and get right to my personal experience and expert opinion:

Intel entering the FPGA business (again)?Starting from zero (Achronix) in a highly competitive market that relies on a multi tiered sales channel, silicon proven IP, and free design software? I don’t think so. I worked for an FPGA start-up (Gatefield, bought by Atcel) and can tell you, competing against Altera/Xilinx is your worst nightmare. These people are design win commandos and will stop at nothing to win a socket. GateField had a 2x density advantage and was also an ASIC replacement (used standard design tools) but didn’t have a chance against the FPGA cartels. Neither did Actel and the dozen other FPGA start-ups that have since failed. After spending 2 years searching Northern California for design starts with ARC, eSilicon, and Virage, after identifying 500+ companies and profiling their application and design ecosystem, I did not find a single Achronix Speedster 22i customer. And just so you know, eSillicon did the silicon implementation of the flagship TSMC 65nm version of Speedster not Achronix.

Intel entering the foundry business? This would be more of an “Intel Versus Samsung” thing since both are pure-play semiconductor foundry posers. Intel has been dabbling in the foundry/ASIC business for years so this is not big news. Today, Intel is run by bean counters who would be best advised to focus on the high margin microprocessor business before ARM bakes their beans. Android is ARM based and between Android phones and tablets the PC/laptop business faces extinction! Now if Intel offered special foundry services for Atom based designs that would be interesting.

Intel ramps advanced processes with FPGA technology? This is entirely possible but certainly not a big enough gain to justify the risk/expense. TSMC uses Altera to ramp processes, FPGA companies are always first to a node and the repetitive structures they use work well for this. SRAM is used for the same purpose which is one of the reasons why the IP guys see new processes up close and personal.

Intel adds FPGA muscle to Atom?
Not likely. ARM is partners with Altera and Xilinx so Intel should do the same. Installed base of customers means everything for this strategy to work.

Intel wants Achronix asynchronous logic IP. This is believable. An FPGA friend of mine explained this to me and it made complete sense. Unfortunately it was very long winded and uber technical (this guy is from UC Berkley) so I could never do it justice, so I will leave it at that.

But this is all just false paths to throw the mainstream media off the track. The REAL reason Intel made this announcement:


Intel is clearly feeling the heat from AMD, especially with the integrated CPU/GPU Llano chip coming out of the GlobalFoundries Dresden fab. Llano, the world’s first quad-core microprocessor with integrated DirectX 11 graphics processor, is made using 32nm silicon-on-insulator process technology with high-K metal gate (HKMG). Llano competes with Intel Corp’s much anticipated Sandy Bridge integrated microprocessor. Intel can be petty at times and this is one of those times, believe it!

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