Company May Seek to Defray Rising Fab Costs
Intel recently announced a deal that will permit a small FPGA vendor, Achronix, to build products using Intel's next-generation 22nm fab technology. Although Intel often uses external foundries to offload some chip production, allowing another company to use its internal fabs is highly unusual. The most recent occurrence was probably when Intel acquired Digital Equipment's fab in 1998 and agreed to continue supplying chips to that company.
Intel is reluctant to characterize this deal as an entry into the foundry market, but I believe that it's headed that way. If Intel simply wished to support Achronix or its FPGA technology, it could buy into the startup; Intel holds a strategic investment position in many other companies. Offering fab space to an outside company requires extensive effort in cleaning up design tools and documentation, and swapping new products into the production line could hold up Intel's high-value processors. I don't think the company would do all of this for a measly tapeout fee. More likely, it's a trial run for a bigger foundry move in the future.
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