Unlike some of its competitors, Intel is proficient not only at designing microprocessors, but also at manufacturing them. This fabrication prowess has allowed the firm to churn out huge volumes of CPUs based on ever-shrinking process technology. It's also allowed Intel to become a major player in the market for solid-state storage. In addition to manufacturing the flash chips for its own SSDs, Intel makes the synchronous NAND found products from multiple drive makers.
While dedicated foundry firms like TSMC and GlobalFoundries build chips to order for multiple customers, Intel has traditionally reserved its fabrication capacity for its own products. Recently, though, the company has been taking on clients for a new Custom Foundry group. The latest one is FPGA design firm Tabula, whose next-generation chip will be built using the same 22-nm 3D transistor technology as Intel's upcoming Ivy Bridge CPUs. Tabula joins Achronix, another FPGA design firm, on the list of customers for Intel's latest transistor tech. The group is reportedly working with a number of other companies, too, but that those folks aren't ready to announce their plans just yet.
Lest you think Intel is gearing up for a major change in its business, spokesman Chuck Mulloy told The Wall Street Journal that the Custom Foundry group's customers are seeking low volumes of chips that are expected to grow "very incrementally." Rather than using the Custom Foundry division to pad its balance sheet and consume excess production capacity, it seems Intel views the group as a way to learn about fabricating different kinds of processors. That knowledge will surely come in handy as Intel diversifies its own chip lineup.