Intel Foundry embraces ARM; the start of the end?

August 17, 2016 // By Peter Clarke
Intel Custom Foundry has made a statement of intent that it is serious about competing with the likes of TSMC, Samsung and Globalfoundries by agreeing a full support package for ARM intellectual property on the upcoming 10nm FinFET manufacturing process.

The deal could also mark the start of the disaggregation of Intel and its eventual splitting up into separate manufacturing service and technology sales constituents, in other words the end of Intel as we have known it.

In the short term the deal is an acknowledgement that – at least in mobile – ARM's architecture rules the roost and it is what chip developers insist on for their system chips. Despite billions of dollars spent trying to get into mobile Intel Corp. has concurred and let its foundry manufacturing operation cut a deal.

The deal means that ARM's Artisan physical libraries – and as a result POP optimizations of its cores – will be available to third parties on Intel's 10nm FinFET process. Spreadtrum and LG Electronics are already customers of Intel's foundry. Intel has now accepted that although those companies may have tinkered with Atom system-chips to please Intel, their commercial architectural choice was ARM and Intel's foundry had to get with the program or risk losing customers.

The adoption of Artisan and POP is vital if Intel is to build its foundry customer base because the flexibility this engenders speeds the design of core implementations and SoCs, reduces time to tape-out and thereby reduces risk. It is part of the standard design flow set by ARM with foundries such as TSMC. The initial POP IP on Intel's 10nm FinFET process will be for two yet-to-be-announced Cortex-A processor cores designed for mobile computing applications in either big-little or stand-alone configurations.

Of course Intel's foundry has already been making ARM-based chips for the likes of Netronome and may soon do so for Altera, which of course is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Intel's. However, these were essentially arms-length legacy engagements. What the latest agreement indicates is that Intel acknowledges it must engage with ARM if it is to be credible as a foundry manufacturer, even at the risk that it