SAN JOSE, Calif. — Intel Corp. bid to buy eASIC for an undisclosed sum, aiming to fold to pioneer of a low-cost alternative to ASICs into its FPGA group. The x86 giant aims to accelerate eASIC's road map and hire all its 120 employees including eASIC CEO Ronnie Vasishta when the deal closes, probably in the third quarter.

Back in 2015 when it decided to scuttle plans for an IPO, eASIC had reported revenues of $67.4 million and a $1.1 million loss. Since that time, it rolled out products in a 28nm process and talked about plans to support ARM cores. Investors in the 19-year-old company are said to have balked at supporting its plans for future nodes and Arm cores.

“It’s a small company today but we believe we can scale it and make it a real differentiator over Xilinx,” Intel’s larger rival in FPGAs, said Dan McNamara, general manager of Intel’s Programmable Solutions Group, formerly Altera.

eASIC defined a proprietary approach for taking a wafer with pre-defined logic and memory and customizing it with interconnects in just one or two mask layers. The resulting structured ASIC has a fraction of the up-front cost of a full ASIC although it lacks its programmability. At one time, Intel and LSI Logic were among rivals offering roughly similar approaches.

“It’s a great technology…we had been looking at strategic partnerships with them when we decided to just buy the company,” said McNamara “They have a good patent portfolio and a solid team. Our job is to scale this business quickly and get them the investment they have needed,” he added.

If the deal goes ahead as planned, eASIC could be offering Arm cores early next year. Longer term, its next-generation products could offer Intel’s Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB), a proprietary die-to-die package that is a low-cost rival to 2.5D chip stacks.

So far, Intel’s only public products using EMIB have been its FPGAs that employed it as a bridge to serdes, HBM memory stacks and Xeon processors. “We have a bunch of sampling products today in different verticals and a lot of products coming in next couple years from Intel leveraging EMIB,” he said.

EMIB has not seen use in third-party products, although it was introduced as a differentiator for Intel’s still-small foundry business. Long term, Intel also will consider making eASIC chips. TSMC and Globalfoundries make eASICs latest products.

Dan McNamara (left) with eASIC CEO Ronnie Vasishta outside Intel's headquarters. (Image: Intel)
Dan McNamara (left) with eASIC CEO Ronnie Vasishta outside Intel's headquarters. (Image: Intel)

The deal is not expected to move the needle significantly in Intel’s competition with Xilinx in FPGAs. Both companies have been reporting solid growth with annual revenues north of $2 billion for their products used in a wide variety of markets including machine learning.

In its first quarter, Intel reported sales of FPGAs were up 17% year-over-year and a whopping 150% in the data center where they are used as accelerators on Microsoft’s new servers. In March, Xilinx, which commands 49% of the FPGA market according to Semico Research, announced Everest, a 7nm accelerator for big data and AI it aims to ship next year.

— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times