Published in PC Hardware

Intel might go partly fabless

by on27 July 2020

7nm manufacturing process not around until 2022

Intel might have to go fabless if it ever has a hope of getting to 7nm before 2022.

Last week, Intel's Q2 2020 earnings report warned next generation 7nm manufacturing process is now a full year behind schedule. This means that the parts will not be around until 2022.

For a while now Intel has been in trouble. It had a less than successful transition to 10nm and Intel CFO George Davis described the company's 10nm process  - used in its current Ice Lake line of laptop CPUs -  as not the best node that Intel has ever had.

He admitted that 10nm Intel would be "less productive than 14nm, less productive than 22nm... it isn't going to be as strong a node as people would expect from 14nm or what they'll see in 7nm".

The fact that Chipzilla couldn’t get higher clock speeds and better yield rates out of 10nm has forced Intel to continue relying on its aging 14nm process. This is the equivalent of running on steam when other trains are running on diesel and are thinking of moving to something better.

While Ice Lake 10nm laptop CPUs are a long way from worthless—due to their higher integrated GPU performance and power efficiency,  it competes against Intel Comet Lake 14nm, with the highest-performance Intel parts coming from the older process.

Now it seems Intel is beginning to look at "more aggressive" outsourcing strategies. As one of the historically largest and most successful chip foundries in the world, Intel has in the past used third-party fabs for cheap, non-CPU products built on older processes.

Now CEO Bob Swain says the company is looking at a more "pragmatic" approach to the use of third-party foundries. This might mean more critical components such as GPUs or even CPUs coming from outside Intel itself, with the company's advanced multichip-packaging technologies used to aggregate dissimilar dies into a single package.

Intel's first 10nm desktop CPU architecture, Alder Lake, is expected to come to market sometime in the second half of 2021.

Last modified on 27 July 2020
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