Altera partners with Intel to build 64-bit ARM chips with 14-nm transistors


— 3:06 PM on October 29, 2013

Well, well. Intel is going to be building SoCs based on ARM's 64-bit Cortex-A53 processor. The SoCs won't bear Intel's name—they'll be fabricated for Altera as part of Intel's Custom Foundry business. However, the chips are slated to be fabbed on Intel's latest 14-nm manufacturing process.

Altera says the new SoCs are part of its Stratix 10 family. The chips feature quad Cortex-A53 CPU cores in addition to floating-point DSP blocks and a "high-performance FPGA fabric." According to Altera, the SoCs represent the "industry's most versatile heterogeneous computing platform." You probably won't see the chips pop up in consumer devices, though. Altera seems to be focused on servers, networking gear, and high-performance computing.

Intel has been working with Altera for some time, so this announcement doesn't come as a complete surprise. Earlier this year, Intel inked a deal to produce Altera FPGAs on its 14-nm process. Before that, the two firms collaborated on a series of Atom E600 processors with integrated Altera FPGAs. Altera even licensed Intel's front-side bus technology back in the day.

Although the move isn't entirely unexpected, it's kind of a big deal. As far as I'm aware, this marks the first time Intel's custom foundry business will fabricate chips based on an ISA that competes with directly with x86. The 64-bit ARMv8 ISA may not have a foothold in the PC world, but it already fuels Apple's A7 SoC, and it's supposed to spawn chips that will challenge Intel in the micro-server space.

Early last year, Intel said it expected its Custom Foundry business to grow "very incrementally." The Altera deal doesn't necessarily change that outlook. However, it's worth noting that new Intel CEO Brian Krzanich comes from Intel's manufacturing wing. He may be open to a more rapid expansion of Intel's foundry business, which could hedge the company against a decline in demand for its own chips.

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