Intel and ARM: Frenemies for the greater good?

Altera's latest ARM processor will use Intel's manufacturing processes. Is this the real kickoff to what could be a lucrative foundry business for Intel?

Intel and ARM appear to be headed toward a frenemies arrangement as the two chip giants' ecosystems start to meld together at points.

An ongoing arrangement with Intel and ARM's ecosystem is likely to be a win-win for all involved. In a nutshell, Intel's manufacturing processors will be used to build Altera's latest 64-bit ARM chip. Intel is trying to uproot ARM's dominance in mobile.

The move was trumpeted as a tectonic shift, but Altera and Intel laid out the plans in February. In some ways, Intel manufacturing ARM processors is a game changer. However, Intel is really just doing what it does best--- manufacture chips . There are a number of analysts who argue that Intel's business needs to evolve to be more of a foundry. With a foundry model, Intel could make chips for Apple, a company itching to ditch Samsung, Qualcomm or whoever. Intel already makes processors for Cisco

altera screen


Of course, the chip giant will still compete and make its own processors, but it has spare capacity. That capacity could dent foundry TSMC, the current maker of many ARM processors.

In its statement, Altera said that its Stratix 10 system on a chip devices will be manufactured using Intel's 14 nm Tri-Gate process, which will use the 64-bit ARM Cortex A53 processor.

Altera's latest chip will be used in data centers, radar systems and communication infrastructure.

Add it up and Altera's Stratix 10 appears to have the best of both worlds---low power ARM and Intel's manufacturing ability.

Should others follow Altera's move---Intel fabs are likely to be open to all for the right price---the processor market is going to get really interesting in a hurry. Ultimately, the game for the mobile market won't be zero sum. ARM will do well as will Intel from a manufacturing perspective.