Intel Scores Huge U.S. Government Foundry Contract For Next-Gen 18A Chips
Intel is spending a lot of money investing into future technologies and manufacturing capabilities, and the efforts are already paying off. Quite literally, in the sense that Intel has secured a contract with the United States government to provide commercial foundry services based on its Intel 18A node, and develop a leading-edge foundry ecosystem.
It's a deal that makes sense for both sides. Intel is one of the relatively few companies that both designs and manufacturers its own semiconductors. Most chip designers in the US are fabless, meaning they work out the blueprints, and then tap external foundries (like TSMC, of which even Intel is a customer) to produce wafers that meet their needs. That includes major outfits like AMD and NVIDIA.
According to Intel's math, more than 80 percent of leading-edge manufacturing capacity is concentrated in Asia. As a result, the US Department of Defense has limited onshore access to foundry technologies that meet its long-term needs, Intel says. Hence how this deal came to exist.
"One of the most profound lessons of the past year is the strategic importance of semiconductors, and the value to the United States of having a strong domestic semiconductor industry. Intel is the sole American company both designing and manufacturing logic semiconductors at the leading edge of technology," Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said in a statement.
"When we launched Intel Foundry Services earlier this year, we were excited to have the opportunity to make our capabilities available to a wider range of partners, including in the U.S. government, and it is great to see that potential being fulfilled through programs like RAMP-C," Gelsinger added.
RAMP-C, or Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes - Commercial, is a program created to facilitate the use of a semiconductor foundry ecosystem in the US, to build leading-edge custom and integrated circuits and commercial products for DoD systems. It is a multi-phase program, and this agreement with Intel is the first phase.
Intel's Node Roadmap And RibbonFET Technology
The government is specifically tapping Intel for products based on its advanced Intel 18A process technology. Intel recently detailed its ambitious chip fab roadmap, which in part includes a new node naming scheme, to resolve the disparity that exists between how advanced a particular node actually is, versus how it is named.
Intel's current 10nm SuperFin process is retaining its nomenclature, but then the new names take form, starting with Intel 7, which previously was referred to as a 10nm Enhanced SuperFin process. Intel 4 comes after that and was previously called 7nm, followed by Intel 3.
Intel 20A is where things get truly interesting. It marks a shift to the angstrom era of semiconductors, with Intel promising breakthrough innovations a new bleeding-edge transistor architecture called RibbonFET. This is known as a type of GAA (gate all around), where the gate is essentially a nanoribbon that completely wraps around the channel.
Looking even further down the roadmap, Intel 18A is the next step beyond Intel 20A, and is already in development. It is currently slated for an early 2025 arrival, and will bring with it feature refinements to RibbonFET that should increase transistor performance even further.
That is what the US government is interested in, and is at the core of this deal. It's not known exactly how much the deal is worth, but we can assume it is on the massively lucrative side.