Intel’s 7nm Process Delayed 12 Months, First Product Could Launch In 2023
Use Of External Foundry Is Possible After Latest Delay
It will be another year before we will see 7 nm Intel processors, with late 2022/early 2023 now the target for Intel’s first product on that node. This news comes after Intel’s earnings call yesterday, in which CEO Bob Swan revealed the 12 month production delay, citing a “defect mode in our 7nm process that resulted in yield degradation”.
“We are seeing an approximate six-month shift in our 7nm-based CPU product timing relative to prior expectations. The primary driver is the yield of our 7nm process, which based on recent data, is now trending approximately twelve months behind our internal target.
We have identified a defect mode in our 7nm process that resulted in yield degradation. We’ve root-caused the issue and believe there are no fundamental roadblocks, but we have also invested in contingency plans to hedge against further schedule uncertainty. We’re mitigating the impact of the process delay on our product schedules by leveraging improvements in design methodology such as die disaggregation and advanced packaging.
We have learned from the challenges in our 10nm transition and have a milestone-driven approach to ensure our product competitiveness is not impacted by our process technology roadmap.”
Intel’s struggles with their 10 nm process have been covered extensively over the past couple of years. Cannon Lake barely happened, and, while 10 nm Ice Lake is available in select notebooks, Intel’s highest-performance mobile parts in the 10th Gen family are still built on 14 nm technology.
Perhaps more concerning, and of great interest to followers of the enthusiast PC space, is the fact that to date there have been no Intel desktop processors beyond 14 nm. Every Intel desktop processor since 2015 has been based on the same architecture, with higher core counts and boost clocks following increased competition from AMD, and leveraged by refinements to the venerable 14 nm process.
Skylake lives on, and on… (Image via Wikipedia)
10th Gen Comet Lake is still a Skylake derivative, and has seen limited availability since launching in May. And even if we had 10 nm desktop representation from Intel today, based on what we have seen on the mobile front, Intel would likely need to retain 14 nm CPUs at the top of their product stack to remain competitive with AMD’s current Zen 2 processors.
This does not mean that 14 nm is about to be retired; far from it. 10 nm desktop parts might be coming, but Intel’s stated focus “on maintaining an annual cadence of significant product improvements independent of our process roadmap” (emphasis added) is suggestive. We could very well see 14 nm, alongside 10 nm, until the 7 nm transition in 2023.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway from the earnings call was Intel’s apparent willingness to leverage external foundries. The delays have taken their toll, and Intel might have to take a step back from their sole-sourcing stance for processors that began with the i386 in 1985.
“We will continue to invest in our future process technology roadmap, but we will be pragmatic and objective in deploying the process technology that delivers the most predictability and performance for our customers, whether that be our process, external foundry process or a combination of both.”