Chip rumor-gasm: Intel to buy Altera! Samsung to buy AMD! ... or not

One way to boost your share price by 28 per cent

Rumors flew fast and furious on Friday about possible acquisitions in the chip industry, with both Intel and Samsung said to be eyeing purchases that could strengthen their positions against rivals.

First up, Intel is thought to be planning to gobble specialty chipmaker Altera, in what could become the largest acquisition in Chipzilla's history.

And if that isn't wild enough for you, gossip from Asia says Samsung may be thinking of snapping up AMD, possibly with a mind to go head-to-head with Intel itself.


Let's start with the more plausible of the two. Sources haven't said when Intel might buy Altera or how much it's prepared to spend, but no less than the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg think it could happen, so a deal may be closer than we think. It would also make some sense, because Intel and Altera have had a close relationship for some time.

Altera mainly makes field-programmable gate array (FPGA) chips – integrated circuits that can be reconfigured post-manufacturing to perform a variety of tasks – and it has been fabbing its chips in Intel's foundries since 2013.

More significantly, Intel has lately begun piggybacking FPGAs onto its Xeon server processors for use as custom coprocessors. Customers might program the add-on chip to act as an accelerator for encryption, search, or compression and decompression, to name a few examples.

For the past two decades, Intel has taken on the processor makers for servers and storage in the datacenter and vanquished all but a few suppliers of alternative architectures from the glass house. With several aggressive suppliers of ARM processors ramping production this year and Intel having its own aspirations to take a bigger chunk out of the networking space with its Atom and Xeon CPUs and various network ASICs, the last thing that you might think Intel would do is veer off on a tangent and spend a lot of money on Altera, one of the two dominant makers of malleable chips called field programmable gate arrays, or FPGAs.
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Chipzilla hasn't said who makes the FPGAs it's been gluing to its Xeons, but Altera would be a safe bet (the other main contenders being Xilinx and Achronix, the latter of which also uses Intel's fabs).

Altera had a market capitalization of about $10.5bn before the rumors surfaced on Friday, to give some idea of what Intel might have to pay for it. But it had better move fast; investors were tickled pink at the idea of a merger and sent Altera's stock soaring up 28 per cent following the WSJ's report. Intel's share price, similarly, climbed more than 6 per cent.


On the even-more speculative side, a report emerged in South Korean media on Friday that Samsung may be rubbing its hands at the prospect of gobbling AMD.

How likely is it? The most obvious argument in favor of such a deal is that AMD is in pretty bad shape. It has posted net losses for its last three fiscal years, and revenue for its most recent quarter was down 22 per cent from the previous year's quarter.

There are also some synergies between the two firms. Samsung's foundries could certainly be useful for baking AMD's silicon. AMD has also lately been branching out from x86 processors to work on ARM-based chips for servers, and Samsung has more than a little experience in developing ARM chips.

But the truth is that there may not be enough at AMD to entice Samsung. The Korean firm hasn't made many rumblings about x86 or server chips so far. And Samsung seems content to license GPUs from ARM and Imagination Technologies for its Exynos SoCs, so AMD's graphics line likely isn't of much interest.

It also seems doubtful that AMD CEO Lisa Su would be ready to unload the company so soon after taking the corner office. And there was another rumor bouncing around a few weeks ago that Chinese chipmaker BLX was looking to buy AMD, which has seemingly vanished into thin air.

Investors seemed no more convinced of a Samsung buyout than we here at Vulture Annex were, and AMD's share price crept up a mere 2.6 per cent on the gossip. ®

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