Altera recently announced it will use the Intel foundry for their next generation programmable logic devices.
Altera will continue to use Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) for their existing products.
Having additional foundries to build their semiconductors puts Altera in a strategic position relative to their largest competitor, Xilinx.
In the announcement of the partnership, the companies said:
“These next-generation products, which target ultra high-performance systems for military, wireline communications, cloud networking, and compute and storage applications, will enable breakthrough levels of performance and power efficiencies not otherwise possible”.
Altera and Intel have entered into a 12 year partnership, with the agreement that Altera will be the only major market Field Programmable Logic Array (FPGA) vendor using the Intel foundry. However, Intel has existing agreements in place with smaller programmable logic companies Netronome, Tabula and Achronix Semiconductor.
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Xilinx has also been a long term user of TSMC foundry services. In 2010, Xilinx announced a partnership with Samsung electronics in a similar bid to maintain their technology lead. Samsung has been the preferred manufacturer of mobile chips for Apple in recent years.
Using the Intel foundry will allow Altera to produce semiconductors using the latest 3D silicon transistors in what is referred to as “FinFET”. This creates a stacking on the silicon of 3 vertical elements which can increase the number of transistors on a device by 30% to 50%.
Intel fabrication sites are leading the industry in the smallest geometries, at 14 nm (nanometers). Intel is currently in mass production of their processors using 20 nm and 22 nm processes. TSMC is also building devices at 20 nm.
In addition to TSMC and Samsung Electronics, two of the other leading foundries are United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC) and Globalfoundries Inc.
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Altera has not yet announced which product family will migrate to the Intel foundry, but their CEO and Chairman, John Daane, commented that:
“Altera’s FPGAs using Intel 14nm technology will enable customers to design with the most advanced, highest-performing FPGAs in the industry. In addition, Altera gains a tremendous competitive advantage at the high end in that we are the only major FPGA company with access to this [tri-gate transistor] technology.”
Overall, the move to add the Intel foundry to their semiconductor manufacturing will allow Altera to maintain it’s competitive stance against Xilinx. The Intel process technology will provide Altera a tool to develop newer features to incorporate into their FPGA chips.
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