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Intel to make chips for FPGA start-up Tabula

Posted: 23 Feb 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:22nm fabrication process  3-D Tri-Gate transistors 

Intel Corp. has agreed to manufacture 3D programmable logic devices (3PLD) products for Tabula, using its 22nm fabrication process. Tabula, a designer of programmable logic solutions for network infrastructure systems, has signed an agreement with Intel Custom Foundry, a division of Intel's technology and manufacturing group.

Using its 22nm manufacturing process featuring 3-D Tri-Gate transistors and co-optimised packaging technology, Intel will manufacture the 3PLD family that will be based on Tabula's 3D Spacetime architecture.

Tabula becomes the second programmable logic start-up confirmed to be using Intel's Custom Foundry division for foundry work. In October 2010, Achronix Semiconductor Corp. announced that Intel would build its 22-nm FPGAs.

Intel dabbled in the foundry and ASIC markets for years. But the firm exited the ASIC business years ago and has never been considered a major foundry player. Some analysts have speculated since the Achronix deal was announced that the world's No. 1 chip vendor wanted to increase its presence in the foundry space, which is dominated by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Inc. (TSMC). Last year, the Reuters news service reported that Intel executives said, if given the opportunity, the company would happily manufacture higher volumes of chips for major companies such as, hypothetically, Apple Inc.

Like Achronix, Tabula is a relatively small programmable logic start-up trying to compete in a market segment dominated by Xilinx Inc. and Altera Corp. Tabula's manufacturing volume at 22-nm will be extremely low in comparison to Intel's own products. Because there is a premium placed on leading-edge process technology in high-end programmable logic, which both Tabula and Achronix offer, it is likely that the idea of working with Intel is especially attractive to them.

"We felt early on as we looked at what Intel was doing on this technology node that there would be some synergy between our product and Intel's technology," said Dennis Segers, Tabula's CEO.

Intel announced last May that it tri-gate transistors, which the company had been developing for years, would form the basis of the company's 22-nm process technology. The technology was originally supposed to be in volume production by late last year, but recent reports have indicated that Intel's 22-nm processors, codenamed Ivy Bridge, won't be in volume production until June.

According to Tabula, the Spacetime programmable fabric delivers a balanced architecture with shorter interconnects than traditional FPGAs and the ability to clock the entire fabric—logic, DSP, memory, and interconnect—at the same frequency. To do that, the Spacetime architecture uses time as a third dimension to reduce the number of components needed to implement a function and can deliver smaller, higher performance chips, according to the company.

Tabula uses TSMC to build its 40-nm ABAX products, which are currently in volume production and can operated at clock sppeds of 1.6GHz. Seggers said the relationship with TSMC would continue on the 40-nm products. "We continue to work with TSMC on that product and we have an ongoing relationship with TSMC," Seggers said. "We have great respect for TSMC. They are the best in the world at what they do."

Seggers declined to reveal when Tabula's next-generation 22-nm devices would be in volume production. Details about the agreement with Intel were also not disclosed.

- Dylan McGrath
  EE Times

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