Intel Foundry and Arm Pen Manufacturing Deal for Intel’s 18A Process
Intel Foundry Services scored a deal to manufacture future Arm-based processor cores on its 18A node process.
In the summer of 2021, Intel announced an ambitious five-year roadmap for its foundry services. As part of this roadmap, the company laid out its plans to eventually reach its 18A (18-Armstrong) process node by 2025—a goal that many found doubtful in light of the company’s recent scaling struggles.
Intel Foundry. Image courtesy of Intel
However, this week Intel Foundry Services (IFS) breathed reassurance into its 18A (1.8nm) plans, announcing an agreement with Arm to produce future Arm cores on this technology node.
Intel’s 18A Technology
Two technologies play a significant role in Intel's 18A node. The first is PowerVia, Intel's take on backside power delivery. Backside power delivery is a scheme where all the power-delivering interconnects are buried beneath the transistors, resulting in decreased parasitic impedances and losses and ultimately allowing for more efficient ICs. This is particularly important at smaller technology nodes, where the thermal density can be a limiting factor in device performance and reliability.
The second technology enabling Intel’s 18A node is RibbonFETs. RibbonFETs are a new transistor architecture in which a stack of semiconductor nanosheets are layered on top of one another to form the transistor channel. This is a gate-all-around (GAA) type architecture in which the channel is fully enclosed by the gate region, allowing for greater electrostatic control of a transistor. According to Intel, RibbonFETs yield faster transistor switching speeds and acceptable drive currents within a small footprint.
An example of Intel's RibbonFET. Image used courtesy of Intel
Last month Intel claimed to have completed chip tape-outs of its 18A fabrication processes, marking a major milestone for the roadmap. Right now, Intel plans on having its 18A node ready for manufacturing in the second half of 2024.
Intel Foundry Services and Arm Pen a Deal
This week, Intel Foundry Services and Arm struck a “design technology co-optimization agreement” (DTCO), in which the groups will jointly develop multiple generations of Arm cores optimized for the Intel 18A process. The groups plan to initially focus on the development of low-power mobile SoCs.
Arm has emerged as a top processor architecture in the industry thanks to its combination of versatility, performance, and power efficiency. Because of this unique value proposition, about 95% of premium smartphones on the market today are powered by Arm, and reports suggest that in the next three years, 30% of all PCs may be built on an Arm architecture.
Inking this agreement with Arm is a significant milestone for Intel Foundry Services, allowing the branch to further establish itself in the foundry industry.