Back in 2015 Intel announced that it will acquire FPGA maker Altera, a move that AMD decided to counter in October 2020 with the acquisition of Xilinx. It has taken quite a while, but China has given its approval for the deal, with some conditions.
The conditions being that AMD ensures “the flexibility and programmability of Xilinx FPGAs” and “that their development methods are compatible with ARM-based processors”. If you’re wondering why this is important, remember that China is deeply invested in developing ARM-based products.
There are companies in China that make x86 chips too, including a joint venture with AMD that has a license to build processors based on the Zen architecture. Anyway, China’s main concern is that Xilinx FPGAs remain usable for the local market and that sales of Xilinx products are not tied to sales of AMD products.
For those not familiar, a Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) is a chip whose functionality is not fixed but can be programmed to do a variety of tasks. They have all kinds of uses, for example, you may have seen FPGA-based retro consoles – instead of emulating the old machines, a replica of the CPU and other components is created in the FPGA. They can also be turned into hardware accelerators for anything from machine learning, through networking to video encoding and so on.
FPGAs are often sold as PCIe cards so that they can be added to standard computers easily, but last year AMD patented a hybrid CPU-FPGA design. It would allow Zen processors to be customized on the fly for tasks that are not well suited for a traditional CPU. Intel has been talking about integrating FPGAs into Xeon processors for years now, so this is a space to keep an eye on in the future.
AMD’s acquisition of Xilinx will be a $35 billion all-stock deal, one of the largest in the semiconductor industry. It has already received the green light from regulators in the US, the UK, Europe and other regions.