December 9, 2023

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It is rumored that Intel will open x86 kernel licensing

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It is rumored that Intel will open x86 kernel licensing: Arm/AMD/TSMC will be hit hard?


It is rumored that Intel will open x86 kernel licensing: Arm/AMD/TSMC will be hit hard?

On February 15, according to media Theregister, in order to develop the foundry business, Intel will license its most important asset, the x86 architecture, to customers who want to manufacture custom chips. This will make it possible for x86, ARM and RISC-V cores to work together in a single processor.


As early as March 2021, Henry Kissinger, the new CEO of Intel, proposed the IDM 2.0 strategy. The difference between its IFS division and other foundry services is that it not only combines Intel’s process technology and advanced packaging technology, but also supports x86 . Core, ARM and RISC-V ecosystem IP production to deliver a world-class IP portfolio to customers.”


Does this mean that Intel may also open X86 core IP licensing to third-party chip designers?


Now, the answer should be yes.


“We have what’s called a multi-ISA strategy,” said Bob Brennan, vice president of customer solutions engineering at Intel’s Foundry Services Group (IFS), according to Theregister . This is the first time in Intel’s history that x86 has been licensed to customers who want to develop chips. Soft core and hard core.”


The so-called soft core is usually submitted to the user in the form of HDL text. It has been optimized and verified at the RTL level design, but does not contain any specific physical information.


The hard core is a physical design based on semiconductor technology, with performance guarantees, provided to users in the form of a mask layout of the physical structure of the circuit and a complete set of process files, which can be used as a complete set of technologies. In short, soft cores are useful for chip designers to prototype and customize chips, while hard cores are more suitable for direct delivery to production.


At present, Intel has not announced to the public what form, what kind of charging method, what types of customers, and which x86 kernels will be authorized.


However, since this measure is to promote Intel’s foundry business, in order to obtain Intel’s x86 core authorization, it should be necessary to hand over the chip to Intel’s foundry.




Xeon core will also be open for licensing? ARM PC/Server will be suppressed

While Intel has yet to release more information, Bob Brennan gave an example: “Customers will be able to build chips using licensed Xeon cores and match them with AI accelerators based on the RISC-V specification or ARM IP.”


From Bob Brennan’s example, this time Intel opens the x86 kernel license to the outside world, and the openness may be relatively large.

If all Xeon kernels are willing to license, then most of Intel’s x86 CPU cores may be open to the outside world. .


However, Intel may not open the latest generation of x86 core IP, it is expected to maintain a generation gap of more than one or two generations with the externally authorized x86 core, and it will not be authorized to anyone who gives money, there should be restrictions. , otherwise it may directly have a greater impact on Intel’s own CPU sales.

After all, it is impossible for Intel to give up its own CPU business at present, to concentrate on the research and development and authorization of x86 core IP, and to develop the foundry business to avoid competition with customers.


Even so, this is very attractive to many ARM chip designers. This means that they can also obtain Intel’s PC/server CPU core authorization just like the ARM core IP, and design their own x86 processors, so that they can more easily enter the PC/server market and share the existing powerful x86 ecology. This may be a huge blow to ARM, which is currently actively developing the PC and server market, and related ARM PC and server chip designers.


Previously, Qualcomm has been actively promoting ARM PC chips for the notebook computer market, but from the current market point of view, the results are very limited. In the ARM server chip market, Huawei and Feiteng, which had a strong momentum of development , were also greatly suppressed due to sanctions from the United States.

If at this time, Intel opens the authorization of the x86 kernel, it is bound to further compress the living space of ARM in the PC and server market.


For example, under the current trend of cloud service manufacturers starting to develop their own ARM server chips, for those manufacturers such as Amazon and Alibaba that have launched self-developed ARM-based server CPUs and self-developed server AI acceleration chips, At this time, they will also have a new option. They can develop self-developed server CPUs based on Intelx86 core IP to match their self-developed server AI acceleration chips to meet their own customization needs, and there is no need to work hard to build. ARM server ecosystem. This is clearly an attractive option.


Similarly, for Apple ‘s Mac series products that have fully turned to self-developed ARM-based processors to replace Intel processors , will Apple consider turning around to develop PC processors based on Intel x86 core IP? For Intel, this may also be an opportunity to restore Apple’s orders.


In addition, Intel also joined the RISC-V camp to suppress the development of ARM by supporting RISC-V. Intel has recently announced that it has joined the global open hardware standards organization RISC-V International (RISC-V Foundation) and has become a member of the highest level (Premier). Before that, Intel not only released the RISC-V-based chip Nios Soft processor, but also worked with SiFive to develop a RISC-V development platform code-named “Horse Creek”.




AMD will also be hit hard?

In the past two years, AMD has been in the limelight in the x86 CPU market, constantly eroding Intel’s share in the PC and server market.

According to the latest global CPU market share report for the fourth quarter of 2021 released by market research firm Mercury Research, in the global x86 CPU market, AMD’s market share has grown for 11 consecutive quarters, reaching 25.6%, a record high in 15 years. ‘s new high.


It is rumored that Intel will open x86 kernel licensing: Arm/AMD/TSMC will be hit hard?



Today, AMD has completed the acquisition of FPGA giant Xilinx, further strengthening AMD’s competitiveness against Intel in the server market.


Intel’s choice to open the x86 core license to the outside world will undoubtedly hit AMD, because this move may bring more competitors to the entire x86 market, and these new competitors will belong to the Intel camp.


Although Intel’s opening of the x86 kernel authorization to the outside world will also have a greater impact on Intel’s own x86 processor business, as mentioned earlier, Intel’s early stage should be limited (for example, it is handed over to Intel for foundry production). ).


In addition, Intel may first open the x86 core for the mid-range and low-end markets, and select several powerful manufacturers for in-depth cooperation. And Intel’s loss in the CPU business can actually be made up through the x86 core licensing business and the foundry business.


Although through the 2009 US FTC anti-monopoly, AMD and VIA, which obtained cross-patent licensing of x86 architecture from Intel, have also licensed x86 in disguised form through joint ventures in recent years.


For example, VIA established Shanghai Zhaoxin through a joint venture with mainland capital in 2013, and licensed its x86 architecture to Zhaoxin.

AMD also established a joint venture with mainland companies in 2016 to license its x86 architecture Zen1 core to Tianjin Haiguang (because the United States included Haiguang on the entity list, AMD terminated Haiguang’s cooperation and subsequent authorization of x86 CPU cores).


However, both AMD and VIA license the x86 architecture in disguised form by establishing joint ventures in China, and are limited to the Chinese market.

According to the original agreement with Intel, neither AMD nor VIA has the right to directly license the x86 architecture to third parties. Therefore, AMD and other x86 manufacturers cannot fight back by opening up x86 kernel licenses to the outside world like Intel. What’s more, AMD does not have its own fab, and cannot make up for the loss by developing the foundry business like Intel.




TSMC will face a huge challenge

Although TSMC is still the world’s largest wafer foundry and has a leading position in advanced process technology, it is expected to mass-produce the 3nm process in the second half of this year.


However, since the announcement of the restart of the foundry business in March last year, Intel is also actively catching up, and announced that it will mass-produce the Intel 20A (equivalent to TSMC 2nm) process in 2024, and mass-produce the Intel 18A (18 Angstrom) process in 2025. ) process, which will enable Intel to surpass TSMC in advanced processes. In addition, Intel is currently in a leading position in advanced packaging technology.


In terms of increasing the capacity required for the foundry business, Intel announced in late March last year that it would invest US$20 billion to build two advanced process fabs in Arizona, USA.

In September last year, Intel also disclosed that it will invest 80 billion US dollars in Europe in the next 10 years and will build at least two advanced wafer factories.


In late January this year, Intel announced that it will invest $20 billion in the construction of two new wafer fabs in Ohio, USA, which are planned to start construction this year and put into production in 2025.

Intel said that the overall investment amount in the future may increase to 100 billion US dollars, and a total of 8 fabs will be built, which will be the largest investment case in Ohio’s history.


It is rumored that Intel will open x86 kernel licensing: Arm/AMD/TSMC will be hit hard?

△Intel’s Ocotillo campus in Chandler, Arizona


Judging from the plans that Intel has announced and disclosed, in order to develop the foundry business, Intel has determined that at least 4 new fabs will be built. According to Intel’s expectations, more than 10 new fabs may be built. . Clearly, these fabs will be sufficient for future growth in Intel’s foundry business.


Of course, for Intel, in order to challenge TSMC in the foundry market, it is not enough to catch up with TSMC only by virtue of advanced process technology, advanced packaging technology and production capacity.

So we have seen a series of combination punches recently launched by Intel in order to build its foundry ecosystem.


On February 8, Intel Corporation announced the creation of a $1 billion Intel Foundry Services (IFS) Innovation Fund to help start-ups trying to bring new technologies to the foundry ecosystem.

Launched in partnership with Intel Capital and Intel Foundry Services (IFS), the fund will prioritize investments in chip IP, software tools, innovative chip architectures and advanced packaging technologies.

The fund will strengthen the ecosystem by providing equity investments in startups, strategic investments to accelerate partner expansion, and ecosystem investments to develop disruptive capabilities that support Intel’s IFS customers.


At the same time, Intel also announced that it has joined the global open hardware standards organization RISC-V International (RISC-V Foundation) and has become a member of the highest level (Premier).

At the same time, Bob Brennan, VP of Customer Solutions Engineering at IntelIFS, will join the RISC-V Board of Directors and Technical Steering Committee.

Intel hopes that by joining this organization, Intel IP can be better optimized to ensure that RISC-V can run well on silicon from Intel’s foundry services, across all types of cores.


Building on the Intel Foundry Services Accelerator (IFS Accelerator) launched last year, Intel also launched the IFS Ecological Alliance (IP Alliance), an alliance that provides design services, IP, tools and processes to Support the development of next-generation customer products. Intel will provide an open interconnect of RISC-V-based open Intel Chiplets, leveraging its advanced packaging and high-speed chip-to-chip interface. At the same time, differentiated RISC-V IP will be licensed to accelerate innovation.


According to Intel, partners including Andes, Esperanto, and Ventana will use Intel’s IFS service to produce RISC-V chips in the future.


In addition to promoting Intel’s foundry business by supporting the RISC-V ecosystem, this time Intel plans to open x86 kernel licensing, which will be a more powerful “heavyweight” in developing the foundry business on top of this series of measures. bomb”.


As mentioned earlier, opening the x86 core license may not only bring more foundry partners to Intel, but also may suppress the development of ARM and AMD, which in turn will suppress the growth of TSMC’s foundry business. Development (Most of the ARM chips and AMD chips are currently manufactured by TSMC, and AMD is TSMC’s third largest customer).


According to Bob Brennan, Intel has also created what it calls a “chiplet chassis,” where dies for x86, ARM and RISC-V cores can be put together and packaged into a complete chip. “In the chiplet chassis, I expect there will be demand for ARM and RISC-V (combined with x86 cores), depending on which type of customer it is, and I will support both,” Brennan added. : “We haven’t fully developed our strategy, but the concept is similar in that we want to enable an IP ecosystem around our product.”


“Broadly speaking, it’s about growing our foundry and packaging business because Intel Foundry Services is trying to be the best foundry in the world,” said Bob Brennan. “It shows how committed Intel is in all of these Growing the foundry business with different ISAs going forward.”


From Bob Brennan’s introduction, the core purpose of Intel’s open x86 kernel authorization is to better conform to the current trend of heterogeneous integration of Chiplets, and stimulate chip design innovation in the combination of x86 cores, ARM cores and RISC-V cores.

At the same time, relying on Intel’s strong advantages in advanced process technology, advanced 2.5/3D packaging technology (EMIB/Foveros), and chip interconnect technology (CXL), it will better develop Intel’s foundry business and compete with TSMC. Gained the advantage.




Strictly speaking, this is not the first time Intel has licensed x86 cores to customers in its history, nor is it the first time that it has opened up foundry orders in the form of x86 core licensing.


As early as August 2016, Intel announced that it would open its chip foundry business to the outside world. Then on February 27, 2017, at the 2017 Mobile World Congress (MWC), UNISOC and Intel launched the eight-core 64-bit LTE SoC chip platform SC9861G-IA. T

his chip is not only foundry with Intel 14nm process technology, but also the Airmont processor core based on Intel x86 architecture.

At the same time, UNISOC integrates Imagination PowerVR GT7200 GPU and its self-developed five-mode LTE baseband chip.

But unfortunately, this chip has not been successful in the market after its launch. Intel’s plan to re-enter the mobile market through UNISOC has also suffered setbacks.


In terms of the foundry business, because Intel did not have much determination to develop the foundry business at that time, and it has fallen behind TSMC in advanced process technology, and the capacity that can be given to the foundry business is also relatively limited, especially When Intel’s own production capacity was seriously insufficient in 2018, Intel’s foundry department also “hit the brakes” on orders. Foreign media have reported that Intel will close its foundry business.

Although Intel’s public relations department responded at the time, “We do not comment on rumors.”

However, the subsequent development also showed that Intel did give up the development of its foundry business. After all, Intel’s own chip production capacity is not enough.


Until March last year, Intel CEO Henry Kissinger proposed the IDM 2.0 strategy, which directly listed the foundry business as one of the key directions of Intel’s future development.

This time, Intel is really determined to make a big splash in the foundry market. In order to enhance the competitive advantage of its own foundry business, Intel not only accelerated its advanced manufacturing process, but also spent hundreds of billions of dollars to build a fab. At the same time, it also joined the RISC-V ecosystem, attracted RISC-V chip manufacturers, and established a $1 billion IFS innovation. Fund, this time, it has taken out the “treasure of the town house” – the x86 kernel for authorization, in order to attract more partners.


However, in view of the fact that Intel has not officially announced the news of “opening the x86 kernel license”, and the specific licensing model and details have not been announced, it is unknown how much interest the chip design manufacturers will have in the end.

Therefore, it remains to be seen how much impact this move will have on the entire CPU market and how much help it will bring to Intel’s foundry business.





It is rumored that Intel will open x86 kernel licensing: Arm/AMD/TSMC will be hit hard?

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