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Intel partners with Synopsys for designing chips for contract manufacturing

5 min read
Intel partners with Synopsys for designing chips for contract manufacturing


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Intel and Synopsys have expanded a partnership to develop a portfolio of intellectual property (IP) for Intel Foundry Services, the company’s contract manufacturing business.

Intel has spent tens of billions on its factories, and now it is making them available to other chip design companies.

This new agreement means Synopsys chip design tools will work with chips being designed for Intel’s advanced process nodes in its foundry factories. The agreement aims to enhance the offering for Intel Foundry Services (IFS) customers by providing access to key IP on Intel 3 and Intel 18A process technologies — some of Intel’s most advanced factory technologies.

The partnership supports Intel’s IDM 2.0 strategy, which focuses on fostering a vibrant foundry ecosystem and enabling designers to take full advantage of Intel’s advanced process technologies. By collaborating with Synopsys, a company with a strong track record in delivering high-quality IP, Intel aims to accelerate the availability of IP on its advanced IFS nodes for mutual customers.

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“Marking another important step in our IDM 2.0 strategy, this transaction will foster a vibrant foundry
ecosystem by allowing designers to fully realize the advantages of Intel 3 and Intel 18A process technologies and quickly bring differentiated products to market,” said Stuart Pann, senior vice
president and general manager of IFS at Intel, in a statement. “Synopsys brings a strong track record of delivering high-quality IP to a broad customer base, and this agreement will help accelerate the availability of IP on advanced IFS nodes for mutual customers.”

John Koeter, senior vice president of marketing and strategy at Synopsys, said in an interview with VentureBeat that every system-on-chip (SoC) being developed today for advanced manufacturing nodes can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to design. In order to be more efficient, chip designers can use IP building blocks for familiar components of a chip, such as a USB interface.

“Having a robust portfolio of IP from a market leader such as Synopsys available on Intel Foundry Services really gives Intel foundry customers a leg up in producing an SoC. No customer wants to all of their chips from scratch,” Koeter said.

Koeter said that the investment in the partnership isn’t being disclosed, but he noted that it is a multi-year, multi-generational agreement that represents a significant commitment from both parties. And the complexity of modern chip making necessitates this kind of thing. The Intel 18A node, for instance, refers to chips where the width between circuits is around 18 angstroms thick.

“Intel and Synopsys have enjoyed a long-term strategic partnership developing EDA and IP solutions that
enable Intel to meet the complex requirements of data-intensive applications,” said Joachim Kunkel,
general manager of the Solutions Group at Synopsys, in a statement. “The collaboration with Intel on critical IP development, along with design and system technology optimization, empowers our mutual customers today and in the future to accelerate their next generation of high-performance, AI-enabled designs.”

As part of the agreement, Synopsys will make its standardized interface IP portfolio available on Intel’s advanced process technologies. This will enable Intel’s foundry customers to access industry-leading IPs and expedite design execution and project schedules for system-on-chips (SoCs).

“It is critical for us to build a world class foundry-as-a-services offering every customer preference and choice,” said Rahul Goyal, vice president at Intel Foundry Services, in an interview with VentureBeat. “For that, we need to have the essential IPs available as part of the customer product build up. In addition to the EDA capability, another thing customers need to build their designs, accelerate them and optimize them.”

The Intel 3 and Intel 18A manufacturing nodes will be ramping up in 2024 and 2025. Chips built with these nodes could have tens of billions of transistors on them. Compare that to the 2,300 transistors on the Intel 4004 processor in 1971. The modern chips are often aggregations of established standard components in communication, media, display, memory and more. In many cases it makes more sense to license those components than it does to design new IP.

For Intel’s customers for its foundry services, the types of chips could include high-end networking, AI accelerator, edge compute, mobile or data center computing chips. Intel has more than 40 partnerships across its foundry services business.

“This system is essential to a foundry as a services business,” Goyal said.

The transaction builds on the companies’ collaboration in developing advanced design flows, combining Synopsys’ AI-driven EDA suite with Intel’s technology and design expertise. Synopsys will leverage its design technology tools and implementation and signoff flows to enhance power, performance, and area for SoC and multi-die system designs on Intel 3 and Intel 18A process technologies.

The partnership between Intel and Synopsys represents a critical pillar of Intel’s IDM 2.0 strategy, which aims to regain and strengthen technology leadership, manufacturing scale, and long-term growth. This collaboration marks an important milestone for Intel, complementing its existing engagements with other IP and EDA providers.

“Having Synopsys as a strategic IP and electronic design automation (EDA) partner bolsters IFS’s credibility as a major foundry player because it’s not possible for any semiconductor foundry to be considered a major player without similarly engaging all of the top IP and EDA vendors,” said Steve Leibson, principal analyst and partner at Tirias Research, in an email to VentureBeat. “Foundry customers demand choice. The agreement is also a good deal for Synopsys, because it ensures ready access to Synopsys IP by another bleeding-edge semiconductor vendor, especially considering Intel’s declared intent to regain semiconductor process leadership by 2025.”

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