Intel has been in the news for the first weeks of 2021. While this is not unusual due to CES and the associated announcements of new processors for the latest and greatest consumer products, this year has been a bit different. There have been multiple storylines throughout 2020 rolling over into 2021 about Intel’s demise and failure to execute from a technical aspect. There has been concern that the company might outsource manufacturing to TSMC, which for some reason everyone has been thinking is a competitor, instead of a foundry that produces chips for whoever is willing to pay the price.To get more latest news about intel, you can visit shine news official website.
The year ended with Intel under pressure mostly from the press and technical community for the fact they had not yet released their 7nm processor, and the 10nm was rolling into production much later than anticipated. The company had also faced CPU and server chip shortages in 2019 and early 2020 as a result of strong demand. As a side note, AMD also faced CPU shortages so it is an industry phenomenon, not an isolated instance related to just Intel.
While there is no doubt that Intel is late with releasing its latest and greatest chips at the smallest dimensions possible, we need to be careful mixing metaphors. Yes, it has been late in launching both 10 and 7nm, but research and development have not been standing still.At Intel’s Architecture Day, the company rolled out a Super Fin transistor (Figure 1) A metal-insulator-metal (MIM) capacitor (Figure 2), and improvements in the metal stack, using cobalt, that improved transistor speed and chip performance supposedly to be competitive with the TSMC 7nm chips. The industry expects Intel to release 7nm in the 2022 timeframe, will this put it behind the technology curve as time goes forward, difficult to say. A more important question may be: does Intel need to have the leading-edge process technology in manufacturing to be competitive in the world of computing and AI? More on this later.
While the analysts are beating Intel up about being late with technology launches, there is an economic side to the story. Intel, by extending their 10nm process that uses 193i steppers and multi-patterning, does not have to invest in EUV lithography at the moment. With EUV systems’ average selling price running close to 150 million euros compared to a 193-immersion system of around 60 million euros, there are considerable savings in capital expenditures, even with the multiple patterning steps needed with 193i technology.
If you look at the economic advantages of using 193i and remaining at 10nm with a chip that is as fast if not faster than the competitions in PCs and servers, most CEOs would favor saving capital costs rather than charging forward. It also means that Intel can let the EUV technology mature a bit before rushing in and experiencing production headaches that come with new processes. We already know they have had enough of that with the problems of getting 10 and 7nm into production.
Something else I see missing from the dialogue is that Intel also continues to be a leader in RD in transistor technology. At the 2020 VLSI conference and IEDM conference, Intel presented on next-generation transistor technology using nanoribbon, and heterogeneous integration to create a stacked nanosheet transistor. On January 12, the IEEE spectrum reported a joint project by Intel, and IMEC producing a spintronic device, which is essentially a single-electron transistor that would potentially take the industry beyond 1nm.
However, with IMEC being a research consortium and TSMC being a member, TSMC will likely also eventually have access to this technology, when TSMC chooses to move to that level of RD. If one looks at the level of RD investment and the projects coming out of Intel, as well as IBM, I see a disconnect in the diatribe that the US is losing its technical prowess in semiconductor chips. The US industry may be losing its grip on leading-edge manufacturing, but RD seems to be in good shape.
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