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Intel To Manufacture Rival ARM Chips In Mobile Push 81

An anonymous reader writes: Chip maker Intel has entered an unlikely partnership with British semiconductor firm ARM in an effort to boost opportunities for its foundry business. The licensing agreement, which was confirmed at the Intel Development Forum in San Francisco, means that from 2017 Intel's Custom Foundry will manufacture ARM chips -- used by smartphone giants such as Apple, Qualcomm and Samsung. On the announcement of its latest earnings report, Intel was clear to highlight a shift in focus, away from the traditional PC market, to emerging areas such as the Internet of Things and mobile -- a sector dominated by one-time arch rival ARM. It seems that Intel has now decided to surrender to the latter's prominence in the field.
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Intel To Manufacture Rival ARM Chips In Mobile Push

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  • by geek ( 5680 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2016 @11:06AM (#52719803)

    Do it for the mobile! Talk about late to the game though. Even Microsoft got the clue before this. I'm hoping Intel chokes on desktops enough to let AMD get another foot in the door. Competition is sorely needed on the desktop/laptop front.

    • I think this news means, that desktop will matter less and less. It's bad news for all companies banking on desktop. Yes, I'm looking at you, Microsoft!
      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        No, it just means that the desktop/server isn't the only game in town. It never was. Each class of microprocessor has it's own advantage inside of it's own niche and is awkward outside of it. ARM isn't any different despite the shrill cries.

    • Yeah it's like everyone getting into wearable fitness trackers after everyone in the world already bought a Fitbit. This isn't an emerging market; it was an emerging market when the Motorola Cliq was a leading-edge phone.
      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        I am not sure the concept of "emerging market" has much relevance any longer...mainly due to "time". Manufacturing has gotten so fast and mimicry so entrenched as a business plan that anything emerging this year won't be emerging next year. It will either be fully emerged or, worse, stale. Companies look at what Apple did to some markets and are now determined not get Appled by Apple or anyone else. There is an article on NYT about how companies are evading anti-trust laws by buying any startup that looks l

        • Self-driving cars aren't a consumer reality yet, and capturing the market share in any significant fashion will capture the market. They're essentially the same kind of technology as holographic displays and flying cars.

        • Robotics (Score:5, Interesting)

          by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2016 @12:29PM (#52720303)

          Robotic assembly lines make it relatively easy and quick to switch on production of just about anything requiring mass quantities. Scaling up is easier with robotics.

          Speaking as someone who has spent a fair bit of time working with robotic assembly lines, I think you are overestimating the plug-and-play nature of them severely. Mass production does not require robots nor is it particularly made easier by their presence. The advantages of robots are that they can work in hazardous environments, they can lower unit costs in some (not all) cases by reducing labor costs, they can produce repeatable products, and they sometimes can work faster. Downsides include: High up front tooling costs, less flexible than humans, require substantial programming time/expertise, too expensive for low-medium volume, maintenance and repair, and high setup costs.

          As a general proposition scaling up is not any easier with robotics than with people and generally not any faster either. In some cases it can actually be more difficult. There are advantages to automation but ease of scaling is generally not one of them.

        • Re:Mobile! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2016 @01:00PM (#52720517) Homepage

          I am not sure the concept of "emerging market" has much relevance any longer...mainly due to "time". Manufacturing has gotten so fast and mimicry so entrenched as a business plan that anything emerging this year won't be emerging next year. It will either be fully emerged or, worse, stale. Companies look at what Apple did to some markets and are now determined not get Appled by Apple or anyone else. There is an article on NYT about how companies are evading anti-trust laws by buying any startup that looks like it might become a competitor.

          Every smart phone looks like an iPhone to me, there's no differentiation that regular customers could care about. Self-driving cars seems like a hot new area. Except no car company of any reasonable size is not working on them. There will be no emerging market for these, it will be created fully merged. Robotic assembly lines make it relatively easy and quick to switch on production of just about anything requiring mass quantities. Scaling up is easier with robotics.

          I see this as a consequence of global supply chains, subcontracting, and little if any vertical integration. All the little details that used to be trade secrets of a vertically-integrated company are now quite transparent. You open up the device, see who made all the different components, and call them up and ask for a quote. We have come a long way from the days when a company manufactured most of their core products in-house. Just as one example, GE has been subcontracting out the manufacture of steam turbines, to their own competitors, since at least the 1970s. You could argue that they were simply divesting themselves of "mature" technology in order to focus on the more profitable cutting-edge stuff, but I would argue that steam turbine technology only became fully mature because they gave away (licensed) the technology to Hitachi, Toshiba, Doosan, and Ansaldo and let them run with it.

    • "I'm hoping Intel chokes on desktops enough to let AMD get another foot in the door"

      Its never going to happen. Intel is a Titan, AMD is a demi-god at best. AMD is not and has never been Intel's competition. Last year Intel spent almost as much on R&D as AMDs entire market cap.
    • Short term, the best bet for competition in the PC market is probably AMD's upcoming Zen architecture. Even if it cannot completely match the current Intel offerings, it will put pressure on Intel to sell their stuff at more affordable prices.

  • a dusty old thing from buying some smaller firm something like 8 years ago.

    • by dlenmn ( 145080 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2016 @11:15AM (#52719859)

      It's more like 20 years ago. Digital Equipment Corporation sued Intel into buying their ARM processor business [wikipedia.org] in 1997 (sounds kind of weird, but it's basically what happened), and Intel kept making the processors until 2006, when it sold the business.

    • They bought the 'StrongARM' series from DEC in the late 90s, which became 'Xscale' until it was mostly sold to Marvell in 2005. I think they retained some limited amount of the family for NIC offload and RAID chipsets; but they don't do application processors anymore.
    • by jrumney ( 197329 )

      a dusty old thing from buying some smaller firm something like 8 years ago.

      It was more than 8 years ago that Intel bought StrongARM and renamed the next generation to XScale. They sold it 10 years ago to Marvell. Because Intel's own architecture was about to wipe ARM off the map ... they finally gave up on that plan earlier this year, so it makes sense for them to now have a renewed interest in ARM.

  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Wednesday August 17, 2016 @11:10AM (#52719829) Homepage Journal

    Intel doesn't just make CPUs, they make whole systems. A PC with an Intel chipset has Intel NICs, Intel SATA controllers, Intel PCIe bus controllers, Intel USB controllers etc. They actually do a whole lot more, including cellular modems, flash memory controllers and all sorts stuff that gets integrated into smartphone SoCs.

    So even if the CPU core is ARM instead of Intel Atom, the rest of the system will be Intel custom hardware. Getting that accepted and widely used is even more important than getting their CPU ISA used in mobile devices.

    • This seems right on point. I would have thought that looking at the total power consumption would be the next big driver, the CPU can't be the only power hog in a system with GPUs and network processors.

      I'd like intel to use their high-resolution fabrication facilities to make systems with new programmable opportunities, like part of the die set aside for FPGA or specific accelerators for other functions like DSP and better crypto or image processing to accommodate new types of sensors

      • by slew ( 2918 )

        I'd like intel to use their high-resolution fabrication facilities to make systems with new programmable opportunities, like part of the die set aside for FPGA...

        Well, intel did buy altera last year and promised such a thing, but we haven't see anything real come of that yet...

        Intel did announced that they would ship a multi-chip module with a Xeon server chip and an Arria fpga connected by QPI in the same package, but I haven't seen anything on their roadmap yet that actually has FPGA blocks on the same die as their CPU.

    • Not just that, regardless of whether or not Intel retains its leadership on ISAs, their fabs are way more advanced than anything else out there - TSMC, GSMC, et al. Nothing can touch that, thanks to an amazing tradition of fine-tuning their processes. Also, it's not like Intel is exactly in love w/ the x86/x64 arch - they tried 3 times to kill it, but w/o success - w/ the i960, i860 and Itanium.

      So yeah, they can make custom chips around their ARM, and optimize it for either more battery life, or heavier

    • No. This is about Intel's foundry business. Seemingly, Intel will make LG's new SoC on their 10nm process. Intel does not supply any IP, it just provides the foundry service.

    • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

      And even if the ISA is ARM, Intel can still manufacture the CPU... The ARM ISA has won, most software is distributed as precompiled binaries so once a given ISA becomes entrenched in a given market there's no shifting it, only extending it while retaining compatibility. Intel learned that with IA64.

  • by dlenmn ( 145080 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2016 @11:11AM (#52719833)

    This is amusing in part because Intel made ARM processors from 1997-2006 (branded StrongARM and later XScale), but decided that ARM processors were silly and sold their ARM processor business in 2006. In hindsight, that was the worst possible timing since the mobile market started to take off shortly thereafter (the first iPhone was 2007. Oh well. At least they're no longer wasting their time trying to cram x86 processors into phones.

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2016 @12:52PM (#52720455)
      2002-2005 was right when Intel was being controlled by their marketing division. Prior to about 2004-2005, the easiest way to improve performance was to increase clock speed. Consequently clock speed was pretty much doubling every 1.5 years, and the public correlated clock speed with CPU performance. Intel's marketing division, with the backing of management, forced their engineering division to increase clock speed at all costs.

      The resulting fiasco was Netburst and Prescott [wikipedia.org], which ran headfirst into the laws of physics. To reach higher frequencies required higher voltages. But CPU power consumption [wikipedia.org] is proportional to frequency times voltage squared. Prescott ran too hot to yield the promised performance increases and Intel's CPU progress stalled. This resulted in AMD capturing the CPU performance crown (which is why the 64-bit instruction set is AMD64).

      Intel was trying to do the same thing with XScale [slashdot.org] - increase clock speed at all costs. They ended up with a mobile processor which doubled the clock speed but didn't yield 2x the performance.

      What ended up saving Intel's butt was their laptop division. High power consumption is death for a laptop since it reduces battery life, and laptops weren't as big a market back then [ripemedia.com]. So Intel's laptop CPU engineering division hadn't been pressured by marketing to increase clock speed. They'd come up with a CPU based on the Pentium 3 [wikipedia.org] which made improvements which didn't increase power consumption. The Pentium M allowed Intel to quickly recover from their stumble, and became the basis for the Core, Core Duo, and Core 2 Duo CPUs, with the lessons learned leading to the Core i CPUs we use today.

      But there was no Pentium M-equivalent for XScale. They'd lost too much ground to ARM to play catch-up, so Intel ended up jettisoning the project and selling it to Marvell. Their new tack was to reduce the power consumption of the x86 (and eventually AMD64) CPUs enough to compete with ARM. You call it a waste of time, but they eventually did reach power-parity with ARM once they moved to 14nm (partly because ARM was still on 28 and 22nm). But by then the ARM ecosystem was well-developed (iOS and Android), and the fact that you could run x86 software (Windows) on Intel's offering didn't matter anymore.
      • Actually Intel did try to sell Netburst on laptops for a while (more like plug-in laptops though). What forced them to spend resources on Pentium-M was competition from Transmeta which claimed, at the time, they had lower power consumption and managed to get some wins with several Japanese laptop manufacturers. Until Intel offered them a better deal anyway. Had that gone to court to the end it would have sure been interesting...

    • XScale was actually a bad implementation of ARM by what used to be Digital Semiconductor. Their strengths was high performance - and w/ it high power - CPUs, most famously the Alphas. The same thing when applied to the ARM, made little sense, as it lost the low power advantages of the ARM architecture, but at the same time, didn't have high performance either. You'd have to be an x86 to be in such a sweet spot.
    • The XScale angel is a red herring. That was a specific brand for what is now a boring commodity part that was sold off to a commodity manufacturer at the best possible timing since both parties benefited. What's the last time you heard something exciting about XScale?

      This distracts from the fact that Intel retained full licensing for ARM and that they currently sell components with ARM inside.

  • Translation: There is really really truly competition in the semiconductor industry. It is not being consolidated and constricted by western government and forced to provide preferential supply to the west, especially their intelligence agency, to give them an edge over the natural resources of Russia and others in the global trade.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      Wow...you...errr....aren't related to Trump, are you? I'd watch that free association of ideas if I were you, your brain might explode. Try the little yellow ones next time.

      • Translation: *dog barking*

        You're really fucking stupid. Your thoughts are so polarized by the media that you honestly use your idea of trump as some kind of standard for judgement. Do you think you're being cute or funny? Also your statement doesn't make any sense. Some kind of bellyflop attempt at wit I think. Seriously, you are a brainless dog.

        The NSA actually hijacks shipments of server processors. It has been in the news. HP and others try to play it off as "doing their civic duty" to reroute shipments,

  • I wonder if there will be a successor to ARM. I'm not a CPU architect, but some of the main differences seem that ARM can mix cores (a multi-core processor need not have all cores of the same type) but overall requires more consecutive operations to perform a function (CISC vs RISC), but do so without the same overhead microcode translation.
    In the future I'd imagine we'll be seeing more hybrids between the two, like APU's where essentially a die has an x64 CISC-style core for general processing and an ARM

    • A successor? Why not RISC-V?
      • How about a dual core CPU, where 1 core is x64, and another is ARM? Perfect for hybrids
        • by phorm ( 591458 )

          Isn't that somewhat what AMD's APU is? Multiple X64 compute cores combined with multiple ARM graphics cores?

          • Maybe, but I was thinking in terms of the x64 for any Wintel stuff that needs to run, and the ARM not so much for graphics, but for running any Android/iOS stuff. At the OS level, having something like a multi-boot b/w Windows 10 and iOS/Android, or switching to & from Windows 10 in laptop mode to iOS/Android in tablet mode. Something along those lines. Graphics GPU would be a separate thing altogether - could be from NVIDIA, AMD or Intel
          • The graphics cores are GCN, but the whole point of their HSA design was indeed the ability to put even different cores onto a single memory bus and have them do the things they're best for.
        • AMD planned for it with K12 but then shelved it in order to focus on finishing Zen (admittedly much important for them right now).
    • by imgod2u ( 812837 )

      There's no need. ISA really doesn't matter that much except in very-small-scale processors (think microcontrollers). You can make a very tiny and very power-efficient CPU using almost any ISA you want provided you have:

      1. Compilers that are well tuned to your ISA
      2. Good microarchitecture to run the ISA on

      And then you need software that's written for that ISA. ARM didn't win out mobile because of its ISA. ARM won out mobile because the IP was low-cost and ARM poured tons of resources into developing a good e

      • RISC-V is apparently appetizing for lowest-end CPUs because from what I recall, it allows for simpler implementations. Cue IoT and MCU applications.
    • All of the research that I've seen shows that mildly heterogeneous cores never really deliver a benefit greater than using your effort to stuff MOAR COARS onto a die then power gate them effectively. The overheard of making sure the right process gets on the bigger cores type eats up any gains you may make by having a greater number of little cores.

      The cores have to be very different---CPU vs. GPU---and have to already be implemented with the expectation that they are access differently.

  • I just read an article how an Intel product (the don't deserve more advertisement here but it is a measurement of energy) . I should have skipped to the end of the article where there was the price. $369... wow, I could get 10 Pis, heck how about more than 70 Pi zeros, or more than 30 C.H.I.P.

    Not sure who they are marketing this to.

  • by StandardCell ( 589682 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2016 @01:21PM (#52720681)
    Intel needs to be viewed as several businesses, one of which is their discrete CPU business, another being their flash memory, yet another being the McAfee software acquisition, and yet another something called the foundry business.

    Foundry refers to having a business where you are simply the manufacturer of chips for other companies for their specific purpose without selling into the end market. These other companies contract to Intel to be able to build anything from a network chip to a graphics chip to a microcontroller or virtually anything else (besides memory), either as a standard product off-the-shelf, or as an application-specific integrated circuit. In order for Intel to make that happen, they need to provide the know-how to these manufacturers of chips either directly or through providers of chip intellectual property. This includes logic libraries (standard cells, hence my name), memory cells and compilers for SRAMs, analog I/O cells, mixed-signal like ADCs and DACs, PLLs, non-volatile storage, design rule decks for the process rules, and a few other things that constitute the building blocks of any chip.

    Other foundries such as TSMC, Global Foundries, etc. have the same model, though Intel's foundry manufactures more of their own CPU (and other) products than for other folks. Intel decided to farm out some of that capacity to third parties and make additional money on any spare capacity they might have, particularly with their leadership in logic processes over other rivals in the discrete CPU business. One of the key aforementioned building blocks is the IP offered by ARM for CPUs, GPUs and bus interconnect. This ARM IP needs to be validated to work in their silicon process, and this is the essence of the deal - Intel's foundry customers would not do business with Intel without basic blocks like the CPU since ARM is essentially the most important embedded CPU architecture in chip design currently.

    The way the summary comes out makes it sound like Intel is manufacturing chips for its competitor, but it isn't necessarily so since the Intel microarchitecture is very highly vertically integrated as a business with their discrete CPU division whereas ARM itself is just a provider of IP with their microarchitecture. Yes, in theory Intel foundry customers could be making chips to compete in some segments of the Intel discrete CPU business, but that business is still largely dominated in the server and desktop markets by Intel and its associated software ecosystem. In the same way, ARM dominates the handheld device markets where Intel has had very little comparative presence.

    I can guarantee that Mr. Krzanich and the Intel board would never allow their foundry business to cannibalize their current core discrete CPU business for a "competitor" if they felt it was detrimental to their overall financial and operating picture. This ARM deal is a piece of a larger plan of maximizing their ROI on their very very expensive chip fabs in a market where they have typically had a lead in logic process technology at least one node ahead of their competitors historically. That advantage can be very important in mobile due to the cost and power savings vertical transistor process nodes now offer along with superior manufacturing capabilities as the scale of their other businesses has long demonstrated.
    • Intel's Flash Memory? Doesn't that all belong to Micron now? The latter had acquired Numonyx on the StrataFlash front, and on the NAND/SSD front, you had IMFD or something
    • As I remember it the McAfee aquisition is gone or going,

      Thie foundies are about being competative on x86. Yeah, they do a bit of FPGL. They don't want any old chips, because the process is hightly tuned.

      This is a big deal. It means they have given up on what they wanted to be their growth area in Atom for mobile.

      Well suggested sources suggest they have been massaging their utilisation of those incredibly expensive fabs because the server x86 sales aren't what they want (because of virtuallisation for one th

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      I can guarantee that Mr. Krzanich and the Intel board would never allow their foundry business to cannibalize their current core discrete CPU business for a "competitor" if they felt it was detrimental to their overall financial and operating picture. This ARM deal is a piece of a larger plan of maximizing their ROI on their very very expensive chip fabs in a market where they have typically had a lead in logic process technology at least one node ahead of their competitors historically. That advantage can be very important in mobile due to the cost and power savings vertical transistor process nodes now offer along with superior manufacturing capabilities as the scale of their other businesses has long demonstrated.

      I think you have it a bit backwards, Intel would love to use their process node advantage to push their own x86 chips. But now TSMC and Samsung have 14/16nm processes up and running just like Intel, though some still argue about what's "real" and not. Since they haven't even released the 14nm Kaby Lake yet it seems Cannonlake and 10nm production is still far off while TSMC has created a 10nm test chip "Artemis" indicating they won't be far behind if at all. So because they can't stay ahead in process techno

    • "Intel needs to be viewed as several businesses"

      Internally, Intel views itself as fab company, with a few ancillary divisions to keep the fab lines full. Examples of this are:
      1. chipsets, which in addition to enabling system debug before providing engineering samples also extended the productive life of older process nodes;
      2. the "tick tock" model where the process shrink was the tick because it was the important step that made all the money.

      As there have come to be fewer and fewer companies that run a dece

  • The fact that Intel is offering to manufacture ARM cores for their custom foundry customers is not new. In fact, there are some Altera FPGAs with embedded ARM cores being manufactured by Intel already. The important thing about this deal is that ARM limited will now provide Hard IP for Intel's process technology.

    To understand the importance of this, you have to understand a little more about silicon design and manufacturing than the average Slashdotter. Suppose you are some random fab-less chip designer tha

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