Intel Gives Achronix Access to its 22-nm Fabs

Intel will let Achronix build their next-generation FPGAs chips in its 22-nm fabs, a deal that could mark Intel's entrance into the contract manufacturing business.

Intel officials have been vocal about pursuing other revenue streams beyond the company's PC and server chip roots, including such areas as mobile handset devices and embedded systems. Now for the first time, they are adding contract manufacturing to the list.

Semiconductor vendor Achronix will build its next-generation FPGA (field programmable gate array) chips in Intel fabs-or manufacturing facilities-using the chip giant's 22-nanometer manufacturing process. Achronix will build its upcoming Speedster22i platform using the Intel 22-nm process-including Intel's third generation of Hafnium-based high-k, metal gate technology, which reduces electrical leakage-the smaller company announced Oct. 31.

In a blog post the same day, Intel spokesman Bill Kircos said the impact on Intel manufacturing will be minimal - Achronix's work will take up less than 1 percent of Intel's overall capacity-and will have minimal impact on the company's financial numbers.

However, Kircos hinted in a question to readers that more such deals could be on the way.

"Assuming Intel (and our customers) can find alignment to benefit and profit from a relationship like this, what's your view of opening up our manufacturing doors to others?" he asked.

On the strength of its R&D dollars and its massive manufacturing capabilities, Intel is staying ahead of rivals as it shrinks its chips, continuing to drive up performance while reducing costs and opening up more silicon space for such technologies as graphics and virtualization. Intel is scheduled to start producing 22-nm chips in the second half of 2011, and is already working on 15-, 11- and 8-nm processes, according to Kircos. As far as the high-k metal gate technology is concerned, Intel has shipped more than 500 million processors with the technology, which will be in its third generation in the 22nm processors.

"As many of you know, Intel enjoys a multi-year lead on manufacturing and process technology," he wrote. "Our factories, or -fabs,' are our prized possession. In fact, we just recently announced another $6-8 billion multi-year investment in manufacturing in the U.S. alone."

Despite the Achronix deal having little impact on its bottom line, Intel won't take it lightly, Kircos said.