During the ARM TechCon 2013 conference last week, Altera revealed that its ARM-based 64-bit chips will be manufactured using Intel's 14 nm Tri-Gate process starting in late 2014. The chip will incorporate a high-performance, quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 processor system, floating-point digital signal processing (DSP) blocks and high-performance FPGA fabric.
"The ARM Cortex-A53 processor, the first 64-bit processor used on a SoC FPGA, is an ideal fit for use in Stratix 10 SoCs due to its performance, power efficiency, data throughput and advanced features," reads the company's press release. "Leveraging Intel's 14 nm Tri-Gate process and an enhanced high-performance architecture, Altera Stratix 10 SoCs will have a programmable-logic performance level of more than 1GHz; two times the core performance of current high-end 28 nm FPGAs."
This will be a three-pronged move for Intel: it's a new stream of revenue in a declining PC market; a way to compete with other foundries like TSMC, GlobalFoundries, Samsung and others; and to somehow break ARM's "supremacy" in the mobile market. "It's huge. Imagine ARM's most powerful and technologically advanced 64-bit processor built on Intel's leading-edge fabs. A duo that will be hard to beat," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64, while speaking with Forbes.
Building Altera's 64-bit chip will also open the door for Intel to fab SoCs for competing ARM-based chip suppliers like Nvidia and Qualcomm. "Intel will build Apple's A7, Qualcomm's Snapdragon or the Nvidia Tegra for the right price. Now, the question is, are they ready to pay that premium [to ARM] and feed their direct competitor? But that would actually make business sense for everyone," Brookwood added.
CNET points out that Altera won't be the first; Netronome claimed to be one of Intel's first ARM-based customers back in April. Netronome's next-generation flow processors will be manufactured on Intel's 22 nm Tri-Gate process, and used in a broad range of demanding network, security and content processing applications found in high end networks with speeds up to 100 Gbps. NFPs are the industry's only processor specifically designed for tight coupling with Intel Architecture (IA) processors.
CNET reports that Altera and Netronome went to Intel because the chip giant is making steady progress in building up its foundry business. Microsemi, Achronix and Tabula are also signed on to use Intel to produce their chips. Microsemi, which will only use Intel for its digital products, will have its first 22 nm-based parts made by the end of 2014 or in early 2015.