Intel May Start Manufacturing ARM-Based Chips for Marvell – Analyst

Intel and Marvell Reportedly Negotiating Foundry Agreement

by Anton Shilov
01/15/2014 | 11:55 PM

Intel Corp. has always stated that its leading-edge manufacturing technologies and ability to make chips in volume are among the main competitive advantages against other developers of processors. More recently, Intel claimed its manufacturing prowess as an ultimate advantage over the so-called ARM camp. Nonetheless, it looks like the chipmaker’s foundry unit is about to gain another client developing ARM-based solutions.

 

Back in October, 2013, Intel Custom Foundry, contract manufacturing business unit of the world’s largest chipmaker, and Altera signed a deal under which Intel would produce Altera Stratix 10 system-on-chips that feature both field-programmable gate array (FPGA) as well as four ARM Cortex-A53 general-purpose cores using 14nm tri-gate manufacturing technology. The Stratix 10 SoCs are designed for high-end networking and communications infrastructure, hence, they do not necessarily compete against Intel’s own solutions. Nonetheless, these chips improve competitive positions of ARM architecture in general.

Given the nature of Intel Custom Foundry division, Intel is interested in landing orders from large customers from a number of industries so to avoid conflict of interests. According to Citigroup’s chip analyst Glen Yeung, Intel is negotiating with Marvell Technology Group over a foundry deal.

“We believe that Intel is gaining customer traction in their foundry business, consistent with the company’s recent commentary to open their foundry services to additional customers. We believe Marvell is a potential good fit for Intel in integrated baseband/application processors. Our sense is that performance gains using Intel’s 22nm [tri-gate] process would be substantial for Marvell, providing the catalyst for this relationship,” wrote Mr. Yeung in a note for clients, without elaborating, reports Tech Trader Daily.


Intel Fab 24 in Leixlip, Ireland

Marvell Technology develops a broad line of chips that includes application processors, communication processors, broadband solutions, embedded processors, various controllers and so on. Almost all products by Marvell can benefit from Intel’s advanced manufacturing technologies. Many of Marvell’s chips are either based on ARM cores, or are compatible with ARM’s instruction sets. But the volumes of Marvell’s products potentially represent significant revenue streams for Intel.

“Producing baseband/AP chips for Marvell indeed implies that Intel will be fabricating ARM solutions on their 22nm process. This underscores the approach of Intel’s new management to be agnostic to logic cores in their foundry business. To be sure, Intel will still offer the use of x86 cores to appropriate foundry customers. Nonetheless, we are encouraged that Intel recognizes the revenue potential from producing ARM chips on a foundry basis rather than stubbornly restricting themselves to x86,” wrote the analyst.

One thing that should be noted is that many of Intel’s high-volume fabs can produce chips using both 22nm and 14nm process technologies. Therefore, in case Intel and Marvell sign a contract, it could include both manufacturing processes.

It is noteworthy that Intel and Marvell application processors are competing on the market. Since Intel is not interested in supporting rivals, the information regarding potential contract between the two companies should be taken with a grain of salt.

It is ironic that many of Marvell’s application processors (which are quite popular among consumer electronics makers) have evolved from Intel’s own ARM-compatible Xscale chips. Back in 2006 Intel sold its Xscale division to Marvell as it wanted to concentrate solely on x86. Now, if the information is correct, Intel will produce successors of its own designs.

Intel and Marvell Technology did not comment on the news-story.