英特尔与瑞芯微合作,动了谁的奶酪?

上网时间: 2014年06月09日? 作者:Miya Kong? 我来评论 【字号: ? ?小】

关键字:英特尔? 瑞芯微? 平板电脑芯片?

Why Intel-Rockchip Tie-Up Matters

Miya Kong

Since 2011, essentially two brands have dominated the global tablet market. One is Apple, and the other is the so-called white box. (Of course, Samsung joined the fray last year.)

Rockchip, a Chinese designer of ARM-based SoCs, has not only rocked China's white-box tablet market but also dominated the global market for the last three years, along with its dancing partner (or, more accurately, its biggest competitor) Allwinner, an app processor company based in China.

Since Taiwan's MediaTek entered the white box market last year, however, everything has changed. Cost, design house, supply chain -- competition is everywhere. Further, MediaTek's communication modem technology has become the biggest threat to Rockchip and Allwinner in the tablet market.

So Intel's decision to enter a strategic agreement with Rockchip is a big deal -- not just for the two companies involved, but for everyone in the global tablet market. Intel said in a press release that the arrangement will "expand the breadth of and accelerate the rate at which [Rockchip] brings its Intel architecture and communications-based solutions to market for a range of entry-level Android tablets worldwide."

From what I gathered from the announcement and from discussing the matter with China's industry insiders, we know Intel and Rockchip have agreed on three points:

1. Rockchip will get an X86 architecture license from Intel and will develop X86-based SoC for midmarket and low-end tablets. According to the announcement, the first quad-core SoC (in the Intel Sofia family) will be launched in the first half of 2015.

2. Rockchip will license from Intel its 3G modem technology -- a rare commodity among China's application processor vendors.

3. Rockchip will get 14-nm capacity support from Intel in the near future.

What's in it for Intel?

Intel gets four main benefits from this deal:

1. It can enter the midmarket and low-end tablet market (dominated by white box vendors) using Rockchip's market experience. In 2013, China application processors accounted for 40% of the global tablet shipment, and one third of it came from Rockchip.

2. Rockchip, with its intimate knowledge, excellent resources, and close relationships with design houses, can help Intel build a new X86 ecosystem in the tablet market. In fact, Intel has collaborated with Chinese design houses since the beginning of this year. Its R&D engineers are providing full technical support to design houses such as Emdoor, Techvision, Wisky, and Hampoo, which are partners of Rockchip.

3. The deal will help Intel fill up the 14 nm capacity in the near future.

4. If the relationship with Rockchip goes well, it could create a chance for Intel to enter the smartphone market.

But there are also uncertain factors for Intel. For starters, Intel and Rockchip have different corporate cultures, different operational modes, and most importantly, different missions. With their diverging views and understandings of the market, communicating their goals and their mission of collaboration smoothly will be the biggest problem.

What will Rockchip gain?

Rockchip also finds four main benefits in this deal:

1. Getting 3G modem technology from Intel can substantially improve Rockchip's competitiveness. Based on the stats I've gathered, I see that Allwinner shipped around 48 million chips globally in 2013, while Rockchip delivered more than 40 million, and MediaTek around 21 million. Considering MediaTek's rapid growth in the market since last year, we expect the situation to elevate to a tripartite confrontation this year. This makes owning the 3G modem technology all the more important to Rockchip.

2. Chinese fabless chip companies are beginning to sense limitations in the quality of resources they can get from the ARM ecosystem. ARM license fees are getting higher, the foundry process keeps getting upgraded, and the capacity of advanced processes are becoming much tighter. It's one thing if you are a Tier 1 fabless chip company like Qualcomm or Marvell. It's another thing if you are one of the many Chinese fabless chip suppliers. Rockchip hopes to avert the risk of being treated lightly by the ARM ecosystem. It also hopes to differentiate itself by establishing alternative resources for its products. For instance, Rockchip was the first Chinese company to license ARM Cortex-A12. But when Rockchip launched ARM's A12-based chip, ARM rolled out Cortex-A17, which put Rockchip in an awkward position.

3. The competition among app processors will be eventually determined by the availability of capacities at foundries like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) and Globalfoundries. Intel's capacity will help secure Rockchip's competitiveness in the future.

4. If the relationship goes well, Rockchip will get a chance to crack the smartphone market.

But the Chinese company also faces a few uncertainties. First, different corporate cultures and operational modes between the two companies could prove too problematic for cooperation and communication. Second, the X86 ecosystem is far from healthy. Last, Rockchip needs to build up its R&D forces for X86 technology, which includes both hardware and software. That's easier said than done.

Will Intel and Rockchip become a tour de force to break up China's never-ending cycle of cutthroat competition -- solely based on prices -- in the tablet market? We certainly hope so.

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