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With Intel grabbing Altera orders, can we now begin speculating about future Apple hookup?
Jessie Shen, DIGITIMES, Taipei [Wednesday 27 February 2013]

Since Intel has opened up its fabs to other fabless IC firms, the Silicon Valley giant will pose a threat to TSMC at some point when it comes to high-volume orders, including future chip orders from Apple.

TSMC will no longer be the sole supplier of Altera-designed chips. The FPGA vendor has announced plans to use Intel's 14nm FinFET process technology for the manufacture of its next-generation, high-performance product series.

There is no doubt about Intel's manufacturing leadership, said Digitimes Research analyst Nobunaga Chai, when asked to comment on the just-announced partnership between Altera and Intel. Intel remains ahead of TSMC by 1-2 generations in technology, Chai added.

Using Intel's 14m FinFET process will bring Altera's next-generation products more competitiveness against their counterparts provided by Xilinx, in terms of performance, Chai believes.

However, making FPGAs is a lot different from producing application processors for mobile devices, Chai noted. The architecture of a FPGA does yield a high throughput while that of an AP doesn't, Chai continued. In other words, grabbing future chip orders from Altera should not be associated with a greater chance for Intel to land foundry orders for Apple's mobile devices, Chai said.

From the lessons of cooperation with Samsung Electronics, Apple should find a number of reasons not to work with an IDM especially when the architecture it provides deliver better performance and power savings than that provided by the foundry partner, Chai pointed out. Nevertheless, another scenario is that Apple transitions its iPhones and iPads away from the ARM SoCs if Intel is able to provide more competitive solutions for mobile devices, Chai said.

Intel can also utilize and extend further its relationship with memory chipmaker Micron Technology so that it stands a better chance of grabbing future chip orders from Apple, Chai suggested. The capability of manufacturing a single-chip integrated logic and memory device through 3D chip-stacking technology will be a competitive edge for Intel to win an Apple contract, Chai said.

But for now, Chai reiterated his earlier prediction that TSMC is Apple's most-likely partner given that the pure-play foundry's manufacturing efficiency, flexibility and full support to co-work with.

Chai said previously that TSMC with its 20nm SoC process would most likely secure its first chip orders from Apple, and the foundry's 16nm FinFET process would play a key role in Apple's "breakthrough" product.technology.

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