Intel is well behind schedule with its 10nm process tech; it is years behind schedule in fact. As a result, the company has pushed its 14nm process to tech to the limit with a number of design refreshes. However, the company says that it is still on track to deliver volume production of its 10nm consumer processors in late 2019 and for the sever market in 2020 (we should note that that limited 10nm chips have shipped out, albeit with their integrated GPUs disabled).
With that being said, while Intel's full-scale 10nm rollout has been delayed, Murthy Renduchintala, Intel’s chief engineering officer, says that the advances that the company has made with its 14nm process tech -- currently in its third-generation -- have been quite notable. "I mean if you look at the performance of the current generation of 14 nanometers shipping products compared to the very first generation from a process-only perspective we have improved that 30% to 40%, in terms of transistor improvement," said Renduchintala while speaking at the Nasdaq 39th Investor Conference.
So, what does that mean for 10nm chip production going forward, and what can we expect? "For us 10 is really all about continuing to drive the power, performance, equation, as well as delivering on the transistor density," added Renduchintala. And with those advances comes the challenge of balancing it all between two distinct customer bases.
"PCs are very much about burst performance, peak transistor speed and frequency, servers are much more perf-per-watt, perf-per-core, perf-per-dollar, and therefore, you are trading off those requirements," Renduchintala continued. "And what we have really tried to do is to make a process that is a sweet spot of serving our data-centric products, as well as our PC products."
Going forward, Renduchintala added that Intel's 7nm process tech won't be as far behind its 10nm as you might expect. And there definitely won't be as wide of a gap as we've seen with the shift from 14nm to 10nm. In fact, according to Renduchintala, 10nm and 7nm were developed by separate teams, meaning that that 10nm issues have largely not affected aspects of its successor's rollout.
"We are quite pleased with our progress on 7, in fact very pleased with our progress on 7, and I think that we have taken a lot of lessons out of the 10-nanometer experience as we defined that and defined a different optimization point between transistor density, power and performance and schedule predictability," he stated.
Intel's 7nm process will be based on extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, and with that will come a return to a 2x scaling factor. In other words, Intel is hopeful that its transition from 10nm to 7nm will get the company back on track to keep pace with Moore's Law.
While Intel has hit more than a few road bumps with its transition to 10nm and the eventual switchover to 7nm, the competition is already embracing the process node. TSMCs is already cranking out 7nm chips for customers like Apple (A12, A12X) while Huawei's new Kirin 980 SoC and Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 855 and Snapdragon 8cx SoCs are also built on 7nm process tech.
Intel's direct competitor, AMD, has already made the jump from 12nm to 7nm. AMD will begin shipping its first 7nm processors -- Zen 2-based "Rome" EPYC server processors -- during the first half of 2019. Those processors will be followed by mainstream Zen 2-based Ryzen processors.