Intel’s fabrication plants are built only to manufacture its own chips, right? Turns out that the chip giant may have had a change of heart after all. In a move no one would have ever expected, Intel has announced that they will be opening access to its 22nm fabrication process to a small, private company known as Achronix Semiconductor Corp. Yes, you heard that right.
What’s this? Intel is opening its 22nm fabrication process to a third-party? This must be some kind of belated Halloween trick, right? Well, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see it), this latest bit of news from Intel is about as real as it can get. In fact, it was so groundbreaking and unheard of, it required both an announcement from Achronix Semiconductor Corp. and a blog post from Intel to confirm the impossible: that Intel has, for the first time, opened up its fabrication process to a third-party.
But what really takes the cake is the type of access Achronix had managed to secure from Intel in this landmark agreement. Instead of granting the small startup company access to its older fabrication processes, Intel has surprisingly offered Achronix ‘strategic access’ to its brand-new 22mn process, which is only expected to initiate production sometime in the second half of 2011. Even though Acronix designs FPGAs or Field Programmable Gate Arrays which are completely different from Intel’s x86 microprocessors, the fact that it can take advantage of Intel’s huge lead over the competition with its 22mn fabrication process means that Acronix can produce chips which consume far lesser powerful while boasting much greater performance at a significantly reduced cost.
In fact, Acronix has gone as far as to claim that its upcoming Achronix Speedster22i family of FPGAs will be capable of “as much as 300% higher performance, 50% lower power, (at)
40% lower cost than any other FPGA in any other process technology”. If one were to take Achronix’s claims at face value, the new chips built on Intel’s 22nm fabrication process could potentially trash the competition in every single aspect, thanks to Intel’s huge lead in its fabrication technology over the semiconductor industry .
Needless to say, Acronix is understandably elated at being able to secure such a strategic tie-up with Intel.
“Intel has the best process technology in the world and we are privileged to have
formed this strategic relationship, which enables simultaneous improvements in
speed, power, density and cost,” said John Lofton Holt, CEO of Achronix. “The
combination of the advanced 22nm process from Intel and the advanced FPGA
technology from Achronix enables Speedster22i to eclipse other FPGA solutions
expected to hit the market in the next few years.”
Intel, for its part, was quick to downplay the significant of its agreement with Achronix. However, the chip giant has announced on its official blog that it was also excited to serve as Achronix’s foundry and that the agreement was also an “important endeavour” for it.
“With Achronix, we are selectively offering access to our 22 nm fabs. 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. But it’s still an important endeavor for us that we’re committed to deliver on,” wrote Bill Kircos, Intel’s Director for Product and Technology Media Relations
Global Communications Group. “I can tell you the folks over at Achronix are very excited about the opportunity and the expected performance boosts they will see in their Intel manufactured products. We are too.”
And it is not just Intel and Achronix who are excited with the tie-up. On our part, we will be very interested to see just what Intel can do for Achronix’s ambitious Speedster22i FPGA with its brand-new 22nm fabrication process. Now all we have to do is to wait for Intel’s 22nm fabrication process to officially commence production sometime in 2011. Although we cannot help but wonder if Achronix will start to use the ‘Intel Inside’ branding as a result of this tie-up.