Intel Signs Up Panasonic as Chip Foundry Customer

Intel will leverage its 14nm manufacturing process to build SoCs for audio-visual equipment from Panasonic's System LSI business.

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Intel is growing its burgeoning chip foundry business by agreeing to manufacture 14-nanometer systems-on-a-chip for audio-visual equipment for Panasonic.

Officials with the giant chip maker said July 7 that the manufacturing agreement is with Panasonic's System LSI Business Division, which makes products for the audio-visual market. With the agreement, Intel will leverage its new 14nm manufacturing process to build the systems-on-a-chip (SoC), which will include the second generation of Intel's Tri-Gate 3D transistor architecture, which the company introduced in 2011 as a way of driving performance while keeping power consumption down.

The architecture is key to Panasonic's plans, according to Yoshifumi Okamoto, director of Panasonic's System LSI Business.

"Intel's 14nm Tri-Gate process technology is very important to develop the next-generation SoCs," Okamoto said in a statement. "We will deliver highly improved performance and power advantages with next-generation SoCs by leveraging Intel's 14nm Tri-Gate process technology through our collaboration."

The deal with Panasonic marks a significant step forward for Intel's foundry business, according to Sunit Rikhi, vice president and general manager of Intel Custom Foundry. Panasonic represents the sixth company to agree to have Intel make some of its chips. The other companies include Altera, Achronix Semiconductor, Tabula, Netronome and Microsemi.

The foundry business is one of several efforts Intel is undertaking to expand into growth areas and drive new revenue growth as it competes with the likes of ARM in the mobile device and server chips spaces. Intel's manufacturing capabilities are vast, and the foundry push that is being driven by CEO Brian Krzanich offers a new way for the chip maker to make money from its fabrication facilities. It also puts Intel into more direct competition with the likes of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing and Globalfoundries as the chip foundry industry expands.

During a conference call in April with analysts and journalists to talk about the company's first-quarter financial numbers, Krzanich said he was pleased with the progress of Intel's foundry business, noting the move to the 14nm manufacturing process and an expanded agreement with Altera in March. He said interest from potential customers since the foundry plan was announced has been high.

"There's deep interaction between the technical teams on both sides, really understanding what the process of silicon technology incorporates, what the design tools are, what IP we have to offer, where they can go get third-party IP, all of those kinds of interactions," the CEO said. "Those have been ongoing with many customers. And then you start the business discussions around pricing and availability and all of that."

He said Intel is in the process of learning what is needed to be a strong foundry, and that working with Altera has been a benefit.

"They've helped us see where we're strong and where we are not and what it takes to become strong in those areas," Krzanich said. "They are making good progress on their products."

Intel last year announced it will manufacture Altera's ARM-based quad-core Stratix 10 processors, and in March the two vendors said they are expanding the relationship to include multi-die devices, which integrate Altera's field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and SoCs with other components, including memory, application-specific ICs and processors, into a single package. Such multi-die devices help reduce production costs and improve the performance and energy efficiency of chips for everything from high-performance servers to communications systems.