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Yesterday, Intel announced a series of updates to its Intel Foundry Services (IFS) business. Intel aims to become a leading end-to-end foundry, serving customers by supporting a broad range of EDA tools, IP and chiplets. Besides Arm and x86, Intel is also investing in RISC-V. Intel also officially launched its previously announced Intel Accelerator service program to let customers bring their chips to market through IFS.

Intel made several key announcements to advance the foundry business that Pat Gelsinger launched last year as he became CEO. Overall, Intel’s goal is to create an open foundry ecosystem in the U.S. and EU, as exemplified by several concurrent announcements from partners. Intel recognizes that being a foundry doesn’t just mean manufacturing its customers’ chips, but means that it must also be a partner.

An open chiplet ecosystem

The first announcement pertains to a $1 billion investment, together with Intel Capital, aimed at startups and companies alike that build technology for the foundry ecosystem. The $1 billion fund spans IP, software, architectures and packaging. In particular, however, Intel will focus on two key industry inflections: Enabling an open chiplet ecosystem (Open Chiplet Platform) and supporting multiple instruction set architectures. The three most adopted ones Intel references include: its own x86, Arm and the more recently emerging, open-source RISC-V (Open RISC-V Ecosystem). 

Intel sees these two developments as playing into its strengths. Chiplets are enabled through Intel’s advanced 2.5D and 3D packaging technologies, and contrary to its process technology, Intel has often touted its continued leadership in packaging. 

Nevertheless, chiplets also show the need for an open ecosystem, since chiplets can be provided by multiple vendors and are often manufactured on different process technologies or even by different foundries altogether. To make this vision a reality, Intel said it is partnering to develop an open standard for a die-to-die (chiplet-to-chiplet) interconnect. Intel intends this new standard to become as ubiquitous as some of its previous standardization efforts such as USB, PCIe and CXL.

Intel is specifically targeting cloud service providers in the data center. By leveraging chiplets, compute platforms can be created that incorporate accelerators for workloads such as AI. By closely packaging the CPU and accelerators, higher performance and lower power can be achieved. IFS will further offer service for the validation and integration to accelerate time to market.

“Foundry customers are rapidly embracing a modular design approach to differentiate their products and accelerate time to market. Intel Foundry Services is well-positioned to lead this major industry inflection,” said Intel’s CEO, Pat Gelsinger.  “With our new investment fund and open chiplet platform, we can help drive the ecosystem to develop disruptive technologies across the full spectrum of chip architectures.”

Last year, Pat Gelsinger made a groundbreaking announcement by opening up Intel’s x86 (as well as other in-house) IP to its foundry customers as an alternative to Arm. Intel has since increased its  promotion of RISC-V, which has even led to brief talks from Intel on potentially acquiring SiFive last year. 

Intended customer mindset

To realize its intended customer-first mindset, Intel has announced its IFS Accelerator ecosystem alliance. IFS Accelerator was already preliminary announced in September for automotive customers to bring their designs from trailing edge process technologies to Intel’s FinFET processes, but the current launch aims  to be a general ecosystem alliance to get customers’ products from idea to manufacturing.

IFS Accelerator includes 17 founding partner companies across three categories. The EDA Alliance, which provides design tools for customers, contains companies such as Cadence and Synopsys. Intel said last year it was adopting industry-standard tools, so Intel is indeed delivering on its promise. These tools assist in the specification, planning, design, verification, implementation and testing of electronic systems to optimize PPA (power, performance and area) goals and time to market. 

TheIP Alliance will make sure third-party IP is available on IFS, and includes companies such as Arm and SiFive. The IP portfolio will be verified for Intel’s processes and include standard cell libraries, embedded memories, general-purpose input/output, analog IP and interface IP. Lastly, Intel also announced the Design Services Alliance. This will allow customers to assign implementation tasks to skilled designers. Both analog and digital are supported, and the services can be used at the various stages of chip development.

RISC-V partnerships

While the SiFive acquisition didn’t pan out, Intel’s strategy instead appears to be to form close partnerships in the RISC-V ecosystem. Intel announced four such partnerships with Andes Technology, Esperanto Technologies, SiFive and Ventana Micro Systems. 

IFS’s RISC-V offering will be broad, spanning from partner products manufactured at IFS to licensed RISC-V cores (similar to Arm’s business model) as well as RISC-V chiplets. The CPU cores will be suitable for a wide range of segments from embedded to high performance. IFS will further sponsor an open-source software development platform.

In addition to the above, Intel also announced that it is joining RISC-V International, a nonprofit organization that supports the RISC-V architecture as well as extensions.

“I’m delighted that Intel, the company that pioneered the microprocessor 50 years ago, is now a member of RISC-V International,” said David Patterson, vice chair of the board for RISC-V International.

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