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Nvidia CEO says he is open to using Intel for chip fabrication

News Analysis
Mar 30, 20223 mins

It will take a few years, and a lot of negotiation, but the thawing relations between Intel and Nvidia could help ease processor supply issues.

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Credit: iStock

The old saying “adversity makes for strange bedfellows” has been proven true, with Nvidia saying it is now willing to work with Intel’s foundry business to manufacture its chips.

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang dropped the news on a press call when he was asked . about diversifying the company’s supply chain, which relies on TSMC for its chip manufacturing, and TSMC is both overloaded with orders and in a politically unstable region of the world (Taiwan).

Huang said his company realized it needed more resilience going forward, and so over the last couple years has added to the number of process nodes it uses, and is in more fabs than ever. “So we’ve expanded our supply chain, supply base, probably four-fold in the last two years,” Huang said.

Huang noted that being a foundry on the level of TSMC is no trivial task but said he was “encouraged” by the work Intel is doing on its foundry initiative.

This is a far cry from the Jen-Hsun who never missed an opportunity to take a dig at Intel. For a while, the two companies had the most acrimonious relationship in the Valley, way worse than Apple and Microsoft back in the 90s.

Nvidia on board with Intel IDM 2.0

What this really reflects, though, is that Intel’s Integrated Device Manufacturing 2.0, or IDM 2.0, is really starting to take hold. Intel launched the initiative, which basically is manufacturing chips for other companies, a year ago and had two big names attached: Amazon Web Services, which has its own brew ARM processor called Graviton, and QUALCOMM, which competes with Intel in the mobile space.

Huang said he was “delighted” at the efforts Intel is making with IDM 2.0, noting that such alliances are not trivial. “The business models have to be aligned. The capacity has to be aligned. The operations process and the nature of the two companies have to be aligned. It takes a fair amount of time, and it takes a lot of deep, deep discussion. We’re not buying milk here. This is really about integration of supply chains,” he said.

Intel tried a similar IDM initiative about a decade ago under former CEO Brian Krzanich, and it proceeded to do pretty much everything wrong. For starters, Intel was unwilling to tweak the manufacturing process to meet the needs of the customer. Customers either had to use the same manufacturing process Intel used or go somewhere else, and most of them went somewhere else because not all chips are created the same.

Intel only wanted big customers, not smaller players, and not small low-power chips with low prices because they bring in less money. The result was inevitable: crash and burn.

With IDM 2.0, Intel is following a  model similar to TSMC’s and Samsung’s (the second largest chip fabricator after TSMC). Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger is hiring people who have experience in the fabrication business and is showing a willingness to customize fabrication processes for customers.

Having a fabrication giant like Intel contributing to the supply chain will undoubtedly help to ease some of the parts shortage that has plagued the tech industry, although won’t happen overnight. Intel is investing $20 billion in fabs in Arizona, but they won’t come online until 2024.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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