Intel opens foundries to rival chip makers, sending shockwaves through the industry

Intel has revealed plans to open its foundries up to rival chipmakers, with the firm potentially manufacturing chips based on rival ARM’s designs for competitors including Qualcomm, NVidia or Apple.

The decision to start contract manufacturing work comes despite Intel’s efforts to encourage smartphone manufacturers to use its x86 architecture in its devices.

Currently, Intel’s x86 chips dominate the PC and server markets, while chips based on designs by ARM, optimised for low-power consumption, account for a large slice of the smartphone and tablet market.

While Intel has, until now, designed and manufactured its own chips, ARM has licenced its designs to a range of chip design companies, including NVidia, Qualcomm and Samsung, which in turn outsource manufacturing the chips to foundries owned by TSMC, UMC, GlobalFoundries, IBM or Samsung.

In a statement that sent shockwaves through the industry, one of the ARM chip design firms, Altera, announced it had signed a deal to use an Intel foundry to manufacture an ARM chip.

“Altera Corporation  today announced that its Stratix 10 SoC [system on a chip] devices, manufactured on Intel’s 14 nm Tri-Gate process, will incorporate a high-performance, quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 processor system, complementing the device’s floating-point digital signal processing (DSP) blocks and high-performance FPGA fabric,” Altera says in a statement.

The deal potentially paves the way for other companies to build their ARM chips at Intel’s foundries.

“It’s huge. Imagine ARM’s most powerful and technologically advanced 64-bits processor built on Intel’s leading-edge [foundries]. A duo that will be hard to beat,” Insight64 analyst Nathan Brookwood told Forbes.

“Intel will build Apple’s A7, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon or the Nvidia Tegra for the right price. Now, the question is, are they ready to pay that premium and feed their direct competitor, except for Apple. But that would actually make business sense for everyone,”


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