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Intel gives Altera tri-gate tech for its FPGAs

Intel gives Altera tri-gate tech for its FPGAs

Intel is increasing its foundry business, offering ASIC and FPGA giant Altera access to its 14nm production facilities and tri-gate transistor technology.

Intel has announced a deal that sees it continuing its expansion from first-party chip maker to foundry for third-party fabless companies, winning a contract to build the next generation of field-programmable gate array (FPGA) chips for Altera.

Intel has been farming out spare capacity in some of its older manufacturing facilities to third-party companies for some time, but its freshly-inked deal with Altera is both the largest and the most interesting. Rather than giving Altera access to last-generation process technologies as it moves its own production to smaller nodes, Intel is providing access to its crown jewels: tri-gate transistor technology on a 14nm process.

Field-programmable gate arrays are a special type of semiconductor which, as the name suggests, feature a wealth of logic gates that can be shuffled and reconnected in new ways on the fly. The chips sit between application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) and general-purpose processors, offering a means of producing a semi-custom chip with much greater efficiency for a given task than a general-purpose processor without the cost associated with a dedicated ASIC - and with the added bonus that the chip's design can be updated at will, or even scrapped and replaced with a new design when the task is done without the need to buy new hardware.

Altera is one of the biggest FPGA makers in the world, jostling for the number-one position with rival Xilinx. Its products are frequently found in networking hardware, where the performance for specific tasks and flexibility compared to ASICs can be well exploited, and in more esoteric projects like the C-One reconfigurable computer originally designed by hardware hacker and Altera FPGA enthusiast Jeri Ellsworth. The chips are also seeing increased take-up among BitCoin miners, who configure them to blaze through the complex computations required to 'generate' the virtual currency.

The deal with Intel will see Altera gain a significant advantage over its rivals in the FPGA market: a move to 14nm is an obvious choice for next-generation parts, but access to Intel's patented tri-gate transistor technology - a modification to the traditional planar layout of transistors which, Intel claims, can significantly boost performance or reduce power consumption - will likely make a major difference in the coming product generation.

'Altera's FPGAs using Intel 14nm technology will enable customers to design with the most advanced, highest-performing FPGAs in the industry,' crowed John Daane, president, CEO and chairman of Altera, of the deal. 'In addition, Altera gains a tremendous competitive advantage at the high end in that we are the only major FPGA company with access to this [tri-gate transistor] technology.'

Intel, for its part, gains a big-spending customer and a way to increase the utilisation - and therefore efficiency - of its fabrication facilities. It's a direction Intel has been leaning in for some time, and one which is the direct opposite of its long-time rival AMD which chose to spin off its foundry business in 2008 as The Foundry Company, later renaming it to GlobalFoundries before severing its final rights to ownership in 2012.

7 Comments

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SpAceman 26th February 2013, 12:28 Quote
Ooh I use Altera FPGAs all the time for uni. Would be love to get my hands on one of these.
ChromeX 26th February 2013, 12:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SpAceman
Ooh I use Altera FPGAs all the time for uni. Would be love to get my hands on one of these.

Yeah we used altera FPGA's when I was at uni too, think we used the xilinx spartan 3 to learn with in the first 2 years after that we went onto a board based around the stratix 3. I think a lot of education institutions use them to teach their students.
K.I.T.T. 26th February 2013, 13:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChromeX
Quote:
Originally Posted by SpAceman
Ooh I use Altera FPGAs all the time for uni. Would be love to get my hands on one of these.

Yeah we used altera FPGA's when I was at uni too, think we used the xilinx spartan 3 to learn with in the first 2 years after that we went onto a board based around the stratix 3. I think a lot of education institutions use them to teach their students.

Aye, we've been fed a steady diet of Spartan 3E's at uni but just had to swap all of them out with the newer versions of Xilinx ISE not supporting 3E's and Win7 not supporting older versions of ISE / the older versions having tons of bugs in them.
GeorgeStorm 26th February 2013, 14:15 Quote
We sadly don't get our hands on any actual FPGA boards yet, just simulating stuff, but this is pretty cool.

K.I.T.T. you use ISE on a W7 machine?
ch424 26th February 2013, 20:17 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by K.I.T.T.
Aye, we've been fed a steady diet of Spartan 3E's at uni but just had to swap all of them out with the newer versions of Xilinx ISE not supporting 3E's and Win7 not supporting older versions of ISE / the older versions having tons of bugs in them.

I happily used ISE 12.3 on Win7 with a Spartan3E when I was at uni. Looks like they're on version 14 now, but I don't know how much better it is.
Quote:
Originally Posted by SpAceman
Ooh I use Altera FPGAs all the time for uni. Would be love to get my hands on one of these.

I hope you have deep pockets :p
Alecto 27th February 2013, 18:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by BitTech
The chips sit between application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) and general-purpose processors

Actually they sit on the other side of ASICs - to one side there are (far more specialized) GPPs and to the other side there are (unspecialized) PGAs.
Gareth Halfacree 28th February 2013, 15:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alecto
Actually they sit on the other side of ASICs - to one side there are (far more specialized) GPPs and to the other side there are (unspecialized) PGAs.
I've never really thought of it from that perspective: I've always seen the spectrum as being GPPs->FPGAs->ASICs. GPPs perform your task slowly; FPGAs perform the task faster, but at a loss of generalisation; and ASICs perform your task the fastest of all but perform *only* your task.

I can see what you mean if you're looking at things as a generalisation, rather than performance, spectrum, though.
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