ARM has always been bad news for Intel, no matter how makes the silicon. With Qualcomm, Intel barely left a mark in the consumer mobile market. With Apple’s new Silicon, its dominance in the desktop market, at least on Macs, is now being threatened. While it still holds onto its x86/x64 computing architecture, it seems that Intel has devised a strategy that will let it also profit from this ARM invasion, particularly by making the ARM-based chips that Apple and other customers need.
To be clear, Intel isn’t switching over to ARM and selling those to manufacturers. As part of its new Intel Device Manufacturing model or IDM 2.0, it is establishing a new line of business of manufacturing silicon for other chipmakers. In other words, this new Intel Foundry Services or IFS will be competing against the likes of TSMC, providing semiconductor manufacturing services for companies like Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, and even Apple.
One interesting aspect of the IFS is that it won’t be limiting itself to x86-based silicon. It is also open to manufacturing ARM and even RISC-V chips, for example, Apple’s ARM-based M1 or its successors as well as other ARM chips used for controllers or other parts of Macs, iPhones, and the like. New Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger even told Engadget that he’s eying Apple’s business for its upcoming foundry facilities.
Expanding into the foundry industry isn’t really a huge jump as it does have the know-how and IP for such a business. What some might question, however, is its actual ability to fabricate these critical pieces of silicon, especially at 7nm processes, much less at 5nm. Intel boasts of its progress in developing its 7nm process but it’s still under development nonetheless.
Which brings us to Intel’s own 7nm Meteor Lake, already quite late by Intel’s own schedule. The chipmaker estimates that the design will be finished by the second quarter of the year but analysts don’t expect to see the actual chip until 2023. For a fledgling foundry service, that pace might not exactly inspire confidence in potential customers, especially very meticulous and exacting ones like Apple.