In a shocking move that we didn’t see coming, but maybe should have seen, Intel has just announced a postponement of its planned schedule for the release of 7nm chips, meaning that they now expect these chips to be in their hands from end. Users until “late 2022 or early 2023”. Quite late, especially for those who expected the next generation of Intel processors.
CEO Bob Swan said in a statement to investors:
“Let’s take a look at our 7nm technology: We’re seeing a shift in our 7nm-based CPU product timing by about six months compared to previous expectations. The main driver is the yield of our 7nm process, which according to the latest data is about twelve months behind our internal target. We identified a defect mode in our 7 nm process that resulted in a deterioration in yield. We have caused the problem and believe that there are no fundamental obstacles. However, we have also invested in contingency plans to protect ourselves against further uncertainties in the schedule. We reduce the impact of process delay on our product plans by leveraging improvements in design methodology such as disaggregation and advanced packaging. We have learned from the challenges of our 10 nm transition and are following a milestone to ensure that our product competitiveness is not compromised by our process technology roadmap. “
So basically “The dog ate my processor manufacturing process”.
The upcoming Tiger Lake architecture will continue to refer to a 10nm manufacturing process, but for future generations of processors, Intel had set its future on a 7nm process that offers more powerful chips while reducing power consumption.
What does that mean for Intel?
This is a difficult time for Intel, when its closest competitor AMD has always released powerful and affordable processors and does not seem to have any problems with its Zen 3 7nm processors. Intel has also lost Apple as a key customer as Apple dropped Intel chips in favor of a custom arm-based processor for its Macs and Macbooks. I’m sure Intel hopes its promises to improve things in the future will dispel investor concerns, but it will take more than words to resolve this situation.
One solution that Intel is considering for the future is a significant change from the company’s decades-long approach to handling the entire manufacturing process itself, rather than working with third-party manufacturers who could manufacture chips according to Intel’s designs and specifications:
“We will pragmatically and objectively use the process technology that offers our customers the best possible predictability and performance, be it our process, an external foundry process or a combination of both.”
The suggestion is, of course, that with “pragmatic” the most important element, whether pragmatic or not, is to save and make money. We will have to wait and see if this is a path they will take in the future.
All of this is quite disappointing if we only look at it through the lens of an avid PC user and a player with high performance requirements. Progress will always happen, but we see the greatest innovation and value when multiple competitors vie for customer attention and compete for price and performance. With Intel struggling to determine its strategy for the future of its processors, there is much to fear.
This news does not affect processors sold today, but could cause problems for the Intel product range in the future.