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  • Intel Custom Foundry Explained!

    Apple Patent Absurdity-intel-custom-foundry.jpgThe exciting news is that Intel landed their first big SoC customer with Panasonic's System LSI Business Division. These 14nm SoCs will be targeted to audio visual equipment markets. The significance here to me is that Intel not only has a big SoC customer, Intel now has a non-Silicon Valley based foundry customer. It is critical for a foundry to be able to operate world-wide and Japan, as a country, is an important market as they are leading the transition from IDM to the fabless business model.

    Sunit Rikhi presented at SEMICON West today, Intel made the slides available (HERE) and I do greatly appreciate the transparency. They are an interesting read and I highly recommend you browse them. Before the presentation Sunit asked for a copy of “Fabless: The Transformation of the Semiconductor Industry” which I happily gave him with a custom inscription. Hopefully we can meet again and discuss the book in more detail. The better Intel understands the dynamics of the fabless semiconductor ecosystem the better the return on investment they will get and the more investment they will make, for the greater good, right?

    Out of the 42 slides, here are my 6 favorite:

    1. The Value of Better Transistors (#4). Certainly a valid point but a better transistor does not directly translate into better chips. The FinFET versions of competing FPGAs and SoCs due out next year will have the final word on this.
    2. Expect More From Moore (#7). This is a knock on the TSMC’s “More than Moore” slogan which I found quite amusing. I was the only one who laughed but the subtle point was well taken.
    3. Intel Customer Foundry Ecosystem (#14). Synopsys for foundation IP was news to me. This is significant if that IP is optimized for Intel processes. Intel is Synopsys’ biggest customer of course. Will ARM be added to that list? ARM’s foundation IP is optimized for ARM processors so probably not.
    4. IDM Advantage: Foundry Plus (#17). This is a great list of services, design to tested chips, meaning that Intel competes with the ASIC companies such as eSilicon and Global Unichip. I do like the Foundry Plus sound bite.
    5. Response: Reflect the Marketplace in our Workforce (#32). I’m guessing that this is in response to me pointing out that the majority of the Intel Custom Foundry employees are from inside Intel. The search I did on LinkedIn contradicts this slide based on years of experience but LinkedIn search has failed me before.
    6. IDM Challenge: Separation of Intel Business Unit and Customer IP (#34). Intel uses a firewall to ensure “Separation by Infrastructure Design”. Samsung did this by building separate fabs in Texas for Apple and now licensing 14nm to the GlobalFoundries NY fab. TSMC does not have to do this of course.

    All in all it was a good presentation, absolutely. Intel is now in a quiet period for the Q2 2014 conference call so more detailed information was not available. The most interesting piece of information that I gleaned from this presentation is that Intel started 22nm CUSTOMER shuttles in 2011, 14nm in 2013, and 10nm will start in 2015 (slide #11). This means, according to my calculations, Intel 22nm was 2 years ahead of TSMC 20nm, Intel 14nm is less than 1 year ahead of TSMC and Samsung, and 10nm will be too close to call.