Bitcoin Miners Herald New Foundry Business Model

Bitcoin may have created a precedent for non-traditional customers to go to silicon foundries.

Digitimes reports that people wanting ICs to perform Bitcoin mining functions have been the among the first customers for new TSMC process nodes for the last three nodes 28nm – 16nm.

The Bitcoin miners are a new breed of client for foundries whose customers have traditionally been either design houses or IDMs wanting flexible external fab capacity.

The FAAMG companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google) are the obvious early adopters of this new business model, using in-house design capabilities to put an IC design straight into a foundry, by-passing the traditional semiconductor industry.

In fact four of the FAAMG have already adopted the model.

Google developed the TPU specifically to advance machine learning in its data centres.

In 2015 Amazon bought Israeli chip designer Annapurna Labs to develop its own ARM-based chips.

Apple has been designing its own processors ever since it bought PA Semi in 2008.

Microsoft has its HPU (Holographic Processing Unit) used in its HoloLens VR project and has been designing its own processors for at least 17 years starting with  solo2 in 2000.

The exception seems to be Facebook which still uses Nvidia GPUs in its servers.
The trend is not a good one for the semiconductor industry which has largely relinquished process capability.


Comments

6 comments

  1. That is very interesting Pete, thank you. It’s as if we’re going back to the pre-Fairchild days of the semi industry when large companies like GE, RCA, Harris, Hughes, Philips, Plessey etc looked like dominating the industry through financial strength.

  2. As well as the FAAMG adopting a foundry model, lots of other companies are adopting an ASIC model, often interfacing with a design house at RTL level (which is often essentially a collection of third-party cores) and then buying fully tested and packaged chips from the ASIC vendor. This also squeezes out traditional vendors of large digital chips.

  3. At the moment a lot of auto ICs require special process characteristics which only the semiconductor companies have, DontAgree. But future self-driving stuff for vision and AI processing could follow this model.

  4. So when are the first automotive businesses going to adopt that model?

    The way things are going Tesla would totally do that … but who knows maybe it will be Uber … by now they must be looking for new ways to increase the cash burn …

    • That would be going full circle. All the auto makers used to have their own semiconductor divisions and wafer fabs, they pretty much all divested them in the 80’s & 90’s. I believe Toyota still has a small fab making some components used in the Prius.

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