VIA Technologies began an agreement two days ago with Intel to allow them to headhunt engineers from the company's x86 R&D subsidiary, Centaur Technology. This agreement was announced during VIA Technology's Q3 earnings release and is very vaguely worded. Our readers will recall that Centaur (VIA Technologies) is the third x86 license holder in the world (apart from AMD and Intel) and it is sort of puzzling that Intel would be the buyer in this transaction.
Is VIA giving up its x86 license or is Intel paying $125 million to bypass noncompete clauses?
Intel will pay Centaur Technology $125 million to "recruit" employees from the company's engineering staff to join Team Blue. The agreement between VIA and Intel does not mention any other parts of Centaur Technology in terms of Gelsinger's plans to finalize the deal.
Centaur Technology, based out of Austin, Texas, has been a subsidiary of VIA since 1999. The company handles development of VIA's "x86 core designs," as well as their in-house "ancillary IP," a development used for their deep learning accelerator technology.
Their Centaur subsidiary has never achieved full adoption of their x86 designs that AMD and Intel have accessed, but have remained on the map the x86 market since their infancy in 1999 by VIA Technologies.
The CNS x86 core, Centaur's recent design that was announced in the last quarter of 2019. The x86 core design by the company is focused on server-level workloads, showcasing "Haswell-like general CPU performance," combining with AVX-512 support which executes two rounds using a "256-bit SIMD." Centaur then utilizes CNS to create CHA, adding fabric, I/O, and "an integrated proprietary deep learning accelerator." The initial silicon-based CHA product was planned to release in 2020 during the second half of the year, but the project never developed.
VIA's announcement does raise several questions due to the lack of any other information from VIA Technologies and Intel.
Website United Daily News has reported the deal between Intel and Centaur, but did state that it is not a "wholesale sale of Centaur's team, and that VIA is retaining the Centaur business." This would imply that VIA still has access ot the x86 license so is Intel paying almost $125 million just to bypass noncompete?
Centaur Technology's website has been altered since the deal has started with pages replaced with "UNDER CONSTRUCTION" page holders. Due to the website changes, it appears that VIA no longer has a need to keep up a public appearance for Centaur.
With AMD and Arm-level processors being a strong competitor to Intel, this new agreement gains more foothold for Team Blue with possibly leveling one of the lesser x86 designers and accessing their technology.