Altera just announced that they’re partnering with Intel to produce FPGAs based on Intel’s 14nm Tri-Gate process. This has the potential to give Altera a big lead in the node-after-next war with rival Xilinx. Intel has a well-established leadership position in FinFET technology (which they call Tri-Gate) – a 3D transistor fabrication technique that has much lower power consumption and better performance than traditional planar CMOS transistors. FinFETs give probably an extra process node worth of benefits to FPGAs, so a 14nm FinFET-based FPGA will probably be 2 process nodes better (in terms of performance and power consumption) than the 20nm planar devices that both Xilinx and Altera are already reportedly developing, and 3 process nodes better than the current state-of-the-art 28nm FPGAs both companies are producing with TSMC.
We talked with Altera CEO John Daane about the deal, and Daane says Altera will be exclusive with Intel among “Major FPGA vendors.” That means Xilinx will not be working with Intel 14nm Tri-Gate, but likely Achronix and/or Tabula will. This leaves Xilinx without a known partner for Fin-FET FPGAs, although they are rumored to be working with TSMC on the technology. However, Intel is believed to have a significant lead both in 3D transistors and in process geometry at this point, so this deal could be a major coup for Altera.