Intel to jointly develop x86 SoC with another Chinese chip company

Intel has announced plans to work with another Chinese chip company—well, two of them, actually. The firm will invest $1.5 billion in Tsinghua Unigroup, a state-owned corporation that controls Spreadtrum Communications and RDA Microelectronics, two "leading fabless semiconductor companies in China."

Spreadtrum and RDA design chips for smartphones, feature phones, and consumer electronics devices. As part of the deal, they'll work with Intel to "expand the product offerings and adoption for Intel-based mobile devices in China." The partnership will also produce a new SoC based on Intel's processor architecture. This chip will be jointly developed with Spreadtrum, and it's expected to be sold by both companies in the second half of next year.

Although there are no details on what the product of this collaborative effort might look like, odds are the chip will be part of the low-end SoFIA family. It could also be manufactured outside Intel's fabs. TSMC will reportedly handle the initial manufacturing for Intel's joint venture with Rockchip, another Chinese firm. A strategic agreement between those two was announced in May, and like the latest deal, it involves the development of an SoC based on Intel's x86 architecture. The Rockchip, er, chip is being geared specifically toward budget tablets.

Intel's recent partnerships with Chinese chip companies are no doubt driven by that country's massive market for mobile devices. In the press release announcing the Tsinghua Unigroup deal, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich notes that China is "the largest consumption market for smartphones." The mobile space is currently dominated by SoCs and software built for the ARM instruction set, but Intel would rather have everyone use x86, and its pockets are deep enough to provide plenty of incentives.

Comments closed
    • Airmantharp
    • 7 years ago

    And the most positive thing?

    Because these SoCs are intended to be dirt cheap, more pressure is being placed on ARM and their licensees to stay on the ball with regards to price, performance and efficiency.

    • UnfriendlyFire
    • 7 years ago

    And what if the company decides to break their partnership with Intel and run off with Intel’s intellectual/technical assets?

    And what if that company decides to sell those assets to the the manufacturer of Loongson CPUs?

    SpaceX decided to not bother even thinking about expanding to China due to fears of having their patented stuff stolen.

      • blastdoor
      • 7 years ago

      You nailed it.

      A somewhat related point, at least in my mind:

      American companies cry bloody murder anytime the US government looks at them funny, but they will fold like superman on laundry day to any and every demand made by the Chinese.

        • fhohj
        • 7 years ago

        [quote<]American companies cry bloody murder anytime the US government looks at them funny, but they will fold like superman on laundry day to any and every demand made by the Chinese.[/quote<] Um.. because it's about the money in both cases? The fine folks at Intel aren't concerned about losing secrets too valuable to share or, otherwise, they wouldn't be sharing them. As far as the science and technology side of things is, either the chinese already have what Intel is sharing, just can't use it legally, or Intel isn't sharing anything very high value. Intel can make its own chip under its own name and watch these guys box them out. Or it can pay them to work on something with them, and then they also feel like they can dictate how it all goes down.

    • ronch
    • 7 years ago

    I’d like to compare this to the time when Intel (begrudgingly) allowed AMD to practically use its own designs and brand them as AMD products. In this case, however, Intel simply gives out the CPU core designs and collaborates with these Chinese companies to build an SoC around their CPU cores. Funny how Intel, an American company, sued the he** out of American companies trying to produce x86-compatible CPUs but now allows Chinese companies to put x86 SoCs together using their cores. Then again, Intel is simply using these Chinese companies to penetrate the Chinese market. I won’t be surprised if some unlabeled SoCs containing Intel technology somehow reaches the black market. China will be China, after all.

      • TwoEars
      • 7 years ago

      I think it’s partly a strategic move from intel in the escalating war with ARM. Get more companies in China to favor x86 over ARM and get the ball rolling that way.

    • albundy
    • 7 years ago

    rockchip?

      • NeelyCam
      • 7 years ago

      It’s what you have on the windshield of your Dodge

    • jjj
    • 7 years ago

    China should watch it’s back, this won’t end well for their SoC makers.

    • TwoEars
    • 7 years ago

    Notice it’s only x86, not x86-64. AMD owns the rights to the 64-bit tech.

      • chuckula
      • 7 years ago

      AMD owns the rights to parts of what we use as modern x86-64. AMD likely owns parts of the older 32-bit x86 ISA too. Intel also has IP on some things like AVX that we also associate with modern x86-64.

      Basically: It’s really complicated, and when people complain that Intel won’t license out x86, they fail to realize that Intel doesn’t even have the legal authority to license out *all* of x86 unless AMD is along for the ride too.

    • w76
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]Intel's recent partnerships with Chinese chip companies are no doubt driven by that country's massive market for mobile devices.[/quote<] Totally disagree. Intel is perfectly capable of developing products in one country, fabricating them in a 2nd country with materials from a 3rd, packaging them in a 4th country and then shipping them to a 5th. There's something to be said for having relationships with existing players in a market, but that's not so important in such a global industry -- everyone who'd ever ponder making a mobile device is fully aware of who Intel is. This has everything to do with China's IP extortion racket. China, in some industries, outright requires joint investments with Chinese based companies (not necessarily state-owned in most cases). In others, it's more subtle, but still about as subtle as a sledgehammer: Partner up or we'll scrutinize every bit of paperwork, delay every permit, not question where an unruly mob might come from or go, and raid your offices and make it rain spurious legal woes, from accusations of tax cheating, regulatory violations, collusion -- whatever sounds nice that day. Intel might not have had a choice, and not their job to play geopolitics, but it's a shame the West collectively doesn't grow a pair.

      • NeelyCam
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]Intel might not have had a choice, and not their job to play geopolitics, but it's a shame the West collectively doesn't grow a pair.[/quote<] What is "the West" supposed to do? Sanctions? That'd only reduce profits. No - Intel, Apple et al. will just happily pay the entry fees to get into that market, because there's tons of money to be made

        • Ninjitsu
        • 7 years ago

        DECLARE WAR I SAY! LET THERE BE MORE EXPLOSION NOISES!

    • anotherengineer
    • 7 years ago

    “Intel to jointly develop x86 SoC with another Chinese chip company”
    and
    ” a state-owned corporation”

    Hmm that’s about the most un-American thing I’ve heard in a long long time.

      • rpjkw11
      • 7 years ago

      It’s done all the time making it even more frightening.

      • tipoo
      • 7 years ago

      If you think about it, ARM would be the democratic instruction set architecture.

      • someuid
      • 7 years ago

      Especially when you remember that in regards to China, “state owned” means “communist state owned.”

      • crystall
      • 7 years ago

      The semiconductor market has been inundated with public money pretty much everywhere, including in the US. This is business as usual.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      It’s all about making money. YOU CAN’T GET MORE MURICAN THAN THAT.

      • NeelyCam
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]" a state-owned corporation" Hmm that's about the most un-American thing I've heard in a long long time. [/quote<] Yes, very un-American. "Corporation-owned state" is The American Way.

        • oldog
        • 7 years ago

        Which corporation(s)? I’d love to know so I can invest in them.

        This tripe reminds me of the polls that show that “most Americans” think congress is doing a bad job but when asked about their own congress person they generally think they are doing a good job.

        So which it Neely? Does MS run the country? Google? Intel? Dow Chemical? ATT? Verizon? Apple? How about the Chineese government? The Jews? IKEA?

        Talk about a stupid conspiracy theory.

          • NeelyCam
          • 7 years ago

          Monsato is doing a pretty good job. GE too. When you own the state, you don’t have to pay taxes.

          Why are you calling my comment a ‘tripe’ and a ‘stupid conspiracy theory’?

            • oldog
            • 7 years ago

            Elon Musk isn’t going to pay a dime of taxes on his new battery factory in Nevada. The calculus that the state is making is that Elan will bring in jobs and taxes indirectly. It is an investment decision not bribery.

            Mr. Musk has got millions from the Feds for “green” energy. Is this a wise use of public funds? In my opinion that is very debatable but it largely based on a concern over “greenhouse gasses” and a desire to see cars manufactured in the US based on a new and novel tech rather than letting the Swedes do it first. Was there some collusion between Elon and Obama?

            Governments the world over have special relationships with their largest employers private and public. How could it be otherwise? This is not limited to the US and China. Many people see the Scandinavian countries as places where business is most closely allied and protected by the government.

            An economist will also add that over protecting an industry can frequently lead to very bad outcomes.

            There is no conspiracy and as the multi-billion dollar fines paid by Citi can attest andthere is no especially cozy relationship between the US and any one business.

            • NeelyCam
            • 7 years ago

            [quote<]Elon Musk isn't going to pay a dime of taxes on his new battery factory in Nevada. [/quote<] Aren't you forgetting about federal taxes? Or are you one of those who think federal taxes shouldn't exist, and state rights trump all? [quote<]Mr. Musk has got millions from the Feds for "green" energy. Is this a wise use of public funds?[/quote<] IMO, yes. The federal government needs to support the technologies of the future. I would much prefer that the federal government took back some of those funds in the future by heavily taxing people like Mr. Musk that benefited from said funds, but that is apparently a different topic. [quote<]Was there some collusion between Elon and Obama?[/quote<] Obama is powerless; he can't decide anything by himself. I have no idea why people are blaming him for the failures of this system. It almost feels like convenient marketing to try to make people vote for republicans because somehow magically a republican president would have more power to change things by him/herself? [quote<]An economist will also add that over protecting an industry can frequently lead to very bad outcomes.[/quote<] A different economist will also add that letting an industry be without sufficient regulation can frequently lead to very bad outcomes.

            • UnfriendlyFire
            • 7 years ago

            We heavily subsidized the railroad industry.

            And then indirectly the automotive/trucking industry through the Interstate Highway Act.

    • chuckula
    • 7 years ago

    In some ways, this is a bigger threat to ARM than the higher-end Atoms that we see reviewed on TR and other sites. That’s not because these parts are going to be beating ARM SoCs in performance metrics, but because they are designed to be very highly integrated (including wireless directly in the SoC) and they are designed to be dirt cheap.

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