Intel Foundry Services Lands MediaTek, a Leading TSMC Customer

Process Roadmap
(Image credit: Intel)

Intel and MediaTek announced a strategic partnership today that will see the fledgling Intel Foundry Services (IFS) producing chips for Mediatek, the fourth largest chip designer in 2021, for a range of smart edge devices. Intel will fab the chips on its 'Intel 16' node, a revamped version of the 22FFL node (a legacy process optimized for low-power devices). The announcement comes as the US-based semiconductor industry, and Intel in particular, is on the cusp of receiving significant subsidies from the government to increase US-based chip fabrication.

MediaTek currently uses TSMC for most of its foundry services, but it is also looking to diversify its supply chain by adding production capacity in both the US and Europe. Intel's IFS fits the bill with facilities in both regions, and Intel says that it anticipates a long-term partnership that could span multiple technologies and applications. Intel declined to comment on the timeline for shipping MediaTek products, but says the 'Intel 16' node will be available for tapeouts (first revisions of the silicon) for its customers in 2022, and then available for initial volume ramps in early 2023.

MediaTek currently creates more than two billion devices per year, but it isn't clear how many of those will soon come from Intel's foundries. Intel also isn't specifying the ratio of MediaTek's production that will occur in either the US or Europe, telling Tom's Hardware, "We can’t comment on the details of customer products. IFS customers have access to corridors of capacity across Intel’s global factory network, including existing wafer fabrication sites in Oregon, Arizona, Ireland and Israel, as well as plans for new greenfield fabs in Ohio and Germany."

The overwhelming majority of processors made worldwide are based on older legacy nodes, not the bleeding-edge tech Intel has coming as it looks to execute its process node roadmap that promises five new nodes in four years.

MediaTek's planned smart edge devices mesh nicely with the 'Intel 16' process, an improved version of the company's mature 22FFL node that began shipping in 2018. The 22FFL (FinFET Low Power) process is optimized for low-cost and low-power chips that still deliver high performance while also offering design simplicity for a faster time to market.

For the 'Intel 16' node, Intel has modernized the 22FFL tech further and added support for third-party chip design tools, which stands in contrast to Intel's proprietary design tools that it uses internally. For IFS, supporting third-party Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software for chip design is a critical step forward if it plans to woo chip designers to its production services.

"This is a chance for IFS to build out a real foundry business. There's likely going to be some growing pains along the way, so IFS needs a customer that will be willing to work with it,' Kevin Krewell of Tirias Research told Tom's Hardware.

Intel's decision to plow an initial $20 billion of its own money into the Intel Foundry Services (IFS) wing comes as the company looks to reverse years of decline, in part by offering its manufacturing services to chip designers like MediaTek. IFS has some momentum — it has already signed Qualcomm and Amazon Web Services (AWS) as initial customers and won a contract from the US Department of Defense. It's also generated interest from other industry heavyweights, like Nvidia.

But the first wave of customers alone won't build a thriving third-party foundry, so Intel has been heavily investing in building out its initiative. Intel slapped down $5.4 billion to acquire existing third-party fab Tower Semiconductor, a specialist in high-volume trailing-edge node production with a vast portfolio of clients, and has recruited seasoned leaders like Suk Lee from TSMC to expand its design technology ecosystem. The company is also expanding its horizons by plowing $1 billion into the RISC-V ecosystem, pledging to build Arm chips if needed, and licensing its own x86 IP for its customers to build their custom designs. 

Adding the MediaTek partnership to the list is another important achievement as Intel adjusts to the foundry business model. MediaTek currently partners with TSMC to produce most of its chips. Still, it doesn't seem likely that the initial Intel partnership will steal much of TSMC's business, and the two companies aren't disclosing any financial information with today's announcement. However, Intel now has its foot in the door with yet another large chip designer, leaving room for further opportunity in the future. 

Paul Alcorn
Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech

Paul Alcorn is the Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech for Tom's Hardware US. He also writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage, and enterprise hardware.

  • thisisaname
    A smart idea if you have customers for them chips in Europe and the USA as it would save on shipping.
  • Mpablo87
    Good Cooperation ! ! ! ! !

    I think it is Great ! !
  • watzupken
    I think most chip companies may dip their toes into Intel's fab at some point in time to assess if there are issues with the partnership and the fab. The reason why TSMC is thriving is simply the lack of competition in the cutting edge node space. So I think it is good to have another prominent company stepping in as an alternative. Having all their eggs in 1 basket means they are at the mercy of TSMC charging them whatever they like, and also the risk of supply disruption for whatever reasons.