Redefining the Foundry for an Era of AI

Behind the Builders: As AI brings new entrants into chipmaking, Bob Brennan and Intel Foundry offer a wide menu of services and technologies to combine ‘the best of Intel’ with customer designs.


  • March 18, 2024

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Artificial intelligence isn’t just driving headlines and stock valuations. It’s also “pushing the boundaries of silicon technology, packaging technology, the construction of silicon, and the construction of racks and data centers,” says Intel’s Bob Brennan.

“There is an insatiable demand,” Brennan adds. Which is great timing since his job is to help satisfy that demand.

Brennan leads customer solutions engineering for Intel Foundry, which aims to make it as easy and fast as possible for the world’s fabless chipmakers to fabricate and assemble their chips through Intel factories.

“We are engaged from architecture to high-volume manufacturing—soup to nuts—and we present the customer with a complete solution,” Brennan asserts.

Inviting New Chipmakers in by Turning Intel Inside Out

That contrasts with a foundry like TSMC, which offers research and development, wafer fabrication and selected advanced packaging. Intel Foundry offers those services and a lot more—going beyond construction and helping with testing, firmware (the software that makes hardware work) and the intricacies of the global semiconductor supply chain.

This is particularly important as “there are a lot of new entrants in the AI market,” Brennan says. His team can provide services a customer might not have and find ways to collapse the schedule between idea and working chips. “We fill in all the other pieces at Intel in a way that cannot be matched by any other foundry in the world.”

Brennan and team do that by basically turning Intel inside out.

His team sits “at the center of the construction of compelling AI systems foundry solutions for our end customers.” The systems foundry is a concept Intel unveiled in February and constitutes:


  • A holistic approach for helping Intel Foundry customers design, test and manufacture chips.
  • A recipe for constructing and connecting boundary-pushing AI processors.


As a whole, Intel has been designing, testing and supporting leading-edge chips for decades. The idea here “is taking the best of Intel—core competencies, the architectural knowledge, the design knowledge, IP that we have that others do not, such as Ethernet—and applying that to the (customer’s) design.”

Combining that with “the best of the ecosystem, together leads to customer solutions,” Brennan says.

As far as the recipe goes, nothing illustrates the possibilities like an example: like the future Intel® Xeon® processor code-named Clearwater Forest, debuting in 2025.

Clearwater Forest is a fascinating multilayer chip sandwich that combines sets of compute chiplets built with Intel 18A technology, with each set connected to a base die by Foveros Direct 3D packaging technology. Those multiple sets are then connected to each other and to separate I/O die using EMIB 2.5D packaging. Altogether, it creates a high-performance design with the lowest possible power, area and cost.

‘A Very Compelling Solution for AI’

These ingredients, Brennan says, “create a solution which is very compelling for AI.” Today’s insatiable AI applications require not just systems-on-chip but “a complete system of chips.”

With those, Intel can also provide interconnect and networking solutions for what Brennan calls “connected elements of AI computation.” In other words, a solution that goes all the way to racks and data centers.

“When we couple our very compelling roadmap with our systems foundry services—architecture, physical design, post-silicon, etc.—we lower the barrier to entry and we help our customers take advantage of our new technology,” Brennan says.

It’s not as simple as it sounds.

“In the last three years, there’s been skepticism towards us as a new foundry—about our degree of commitment, on our capabilities and our technology,” he says. “The customer discussions are changing as we speak, from a healthy skepticism to ‘Wow, your technology is looking compelling and competitive. So how can we work together?’”

That change has come as a result of tens of billions of dollars invested in new factories, Intel’s adoption of many industry-best methods and standards, the creation of what Brennan calls “an outrageous service organization” and the “discovery that Intel 18A is a very competitive technology in the world.”

Managing Complex Projects with an Engineer’s ‘Spidey Sense’

Brennan’s secret to helping move along such a massive effort is what he calls “the engineering manager spidey sense.”

“You have an intuition of how things should work and flow,” he explains, “and an innate sense of the hot spots and where you need to put your focus and help.”

Excellent colleagues help, too. “The conversations move fast. The technology moves fast. The innovation moves fast. That, to me, is the addictive lifeblood of Intel.”

“There are only a handful of companies in the world that have the scope and scale to make a difference in the world,” Brennan adds. “AI is going to change the way we work and live—I feel like we’re at the AltaVista/Google moment of 1995, with Mosaic and the internet.

“We’re at the beginning of an inflection point and it’s very exciting to be at the forefront.”