made headlines earlier this week when the company announced it would be selling foundry space to FPGA designer/manufacturer Achronix. This isn't the sort of strategic move we normally we see from Intel; the manufacturing giant has been able to avoid licensing its production capacity to other companies in order to meet costs. The Achronix deal doesn't imply any sort of long-term strategy change from Intel, but it could be a sign that the company is looking to acquire smaller companies.
The term FPGA
stands for Field Programmable Gate Array; such processors are designed to be capable of emulating a variety of hardware features in software. While this sort of emulation is inevitably much slower it would be in hardware, FPGA's allow engineers to experiment or test various designs without physically building them first. According to Achronix's press release, the company expects to realize significant advantages from its Intel partnership.
Achronix has formed a strategic relationship with Intel to build the Speedster22i Platform. Based on Intel’s world class 22nm process technology, the Speedster22i Platform forms the basis of the latest Achronix FPGA families.
Speedster22i FPGAs have significant advantages over larger geometry 28nm FPGAs. By combining Intel’s 22nm process and the innovative Achronix FPGA technology, Speedster22i FPGAs will yield up to 300% higher performance, 50% less power and 40% lower cost than FPGAs built on less advanced, 28nm processes.
Intel's 22nm process technology yield both performance and density benefits for Achronix FPGAs. Area has a squared relationship with linear dimension, meaning 28nm circuits are approximately 1.6 times larger than 22nm circuits. This results in Speedster22i FPGAs having significantly lower power and higher density than FPGAs built in 28nm technology.
The Achronix Speedster22i FPGA Platform uniquely enables applications that require an end-to-end supply chain within the United States. Being built at an onshore location offers significant advantages to programmable logic users who demand the highest level of security. Additionally, Speedster22i FPGAs benefit from the high device reliability inherent to the Intel supply chain.
That bit about national security is particularly interesting; it suggests that Achronix's Speedster22i has won designs from companies or from the US government that have a vested interest in keeping such work secure. In the past, security researchers have demonstrated how offshore foundries owned by unfriendly governments could conceivably build hardware backdoors into CPUs or other computer hardware. Such elements are extremely difficult to detect, as they can be sandwiched in between legitimate layers of other circuitry. As for how this benefits Intel, it gives the company inside access to the work its partner is doing. If Santa Clara decides Achronix is doing interesting work with a potentially tasty profit margin, it'd be a small step to buy the company. Since none of Achronix's work interferes with Intel's current markets, it takes very little risk.