The announcement that Altera would be using Intel for wafer production at 14 nm was big news. Several media outlets positioned this as a new era for Intel with current CEO Paul Otellini making way for his replacement when Otellini steps down next month.


Intel CEOs from left:
Gordon Moore (1975-1987),
Craig Barrett (1998-2005),
Andy Grove (1987-1998)
and Paul Otellini (2005-2013).

The new CEO is seen to be the embodiment of the post-PC world at Intel and will have to leverage Intel’s massive R&D spending to keep it ahead of competitor AMD. It’s been this massive R&D that has allowed Intel to sell logic processing at a premium.

With Apple rumored to be dumping Samsung as a wafer supplier ever since the iPhone patent lawsuit, is it just a matter of time before Intel starts punching out Apple A-series application processors?

To answer this question and many others, Intel Media Relations arranged an interview with Intel’s custom foundry chief, Sunit Rikhi. Also joining the call was Vince Hu, Vice President, Product and Corporate Marketing for Altera Corporation.

Intel was clear that Altera is a big important foundry customer. But they are not willing to say that Altera is the first. What Intel will say is that Altera is the first client of this magnitude that wanted the news to be public. That leaves us guessing as to the ifs, whos, and whens of Intel’s design enablement for foundry customers.

Furthermore, Intel reinforced the notion that this was not a new direction. It was not as if Altera approached them out of the blue and this new foundry deal suddenly appeared to manufacture wafers for a fabless company.

Intended or not, a sentiment emerged in the broader tech press that Intel had made a decision to begin courting big foundry customers as the preferred path to continue the capital-intensive business of creating industry-leading process technology in the post-PC era.

What I took from the discussions with Messrs Rikhi and Hu is that the foundry strategy is well-developed with capabilities planned and executed over the last several years. This is where Altera corroborates the story. Intel’s design enablement for foundry customers has been in the works ever since about 2009.

I believe Intel understands the post-PC era and that we are well into it. I think this deal shows is that Intel was taking the prospect of future declines of traditional computing products very seriously at least as far back as 2009.

In case you thought I was conveniently avoiding the question posed earlier, I don’t have an answer. But if not Apple processors, then I would expect at least some of their competitors will eventually be manufactured by Intel. I wonder if these chips will be branded with "Intel Inside?"

 

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