Fresh off the back of TSMC announcing that high volume production of its 7nm chips is already underway, Intel has revealed during an earnings call that it’s run into trouble with its own 10nm fabrication process. Volume production of Intel 10nm chips was during to begin in the back half of 2018, but Intel has now said they won’t be ready until some point in 2019.
“We continue to make progress on our 10-nanometer process,” said Intel CEO Brian Krzanich during an investors call. “We are shipping in low volume and yields are improving, but the rate of improvement is slower than we anticipated. As a result, volume production is moving from the second half of 2018 into 2019. We understand the yield issues and have defined improvements for them, but they will take time to implement and qualify.”
Intel is at least aware of what’s causing the yield issues now, but actually implementing the changes and ramping up production is going to take some considerable time. It now means Intel’s Cannon Lake is a ways off from arriving, although Krzanich wouldn’t be drawn on whether 10nm chips would be ready in the first or second half of 2019.
“We didn't say first or second half, but we'll do it as quickly as we can based on the yield,” he explained. “The transistors work. We know the performance is in line. So it's really just about getting the defects and the costs in line to where we want.”
For Intel, this likely signals a period of limited growth in terms of computing power. We’ve just had the next round of 14nm chips with Coffee Lake, refining the process to deliver performance gains as high as 70% when compared to the first generation of 14nm processors.
However, from now until likely the back half of 2019, we’re set to see little progress from Intel. Instead, Intel has used this delay to announce 14nm Whiskey Lake processors as a stop gap release later this year, but don’t go holding your breath for significant performance improvements.
For AMD, this represents a huge advantage. It’s got working 7nm Radeon GPU prototypes in its hands already, while it should also be taping out its first 7nm EPYC 2 processors later in 2018. Both 7nm Zen 2 and 7nm Navi will be ready for mass production in early 2018 thanks to AMD relying on semiconductor partners rather than keeping it in-house.
By the time Cannon Lake is ready, Intel will have gone five years without a process shrink. Should AMD not run into any major issues in the coming months, 2019 could well be its year.