Intel spent in recent years, faltering from one misstep to another and even had to outsource the manufacturing of its latest chips to one of its biggest rivals.
Now, in order to regain its former glory, the company is betting it can execute a series of tricky manufacturing changes. But he’s also hoping that a rebranding campaign will convince people he’s not that far behind the competition after all.
Intelligence CEO Pat Gelsinger presented a roadmap for multiple generations of chips at an event on Monday. It includes new technologies designed to help the company compete with TSMC, a Taiwanese chipmaker that currently makes the most advanced, high-performance computer fries, as good as Samsung in South Korea. The roadmap includes a timeline that will allow executives and outsiders to measure Intel’s progress.
In a first sign of success, Intel said Qualcomm and Amazon had agreed to be a client for its new foundry activity, where Intel will manufacture chips for other companies; Intel said it would start manufacturing chips for these companies in 2024. Gelsinger had announced plans for the foundry business in March, shortly after joining the company where he was formerly CTO. However, to an embarrassing extent to how the company has fallen behind, Intel is also planning to outsource the manufacturing of its more advanced chips to TSMC.
Gelsinger said Intel will adopt a new naming scheme for the next generations of chips. Currently, chipmakers are referring to newer chip making processes or “nodes” using a nanoscale, with Intel currently using what is called a 10 nanometer process and TSMC using what it is. calls for a 5 nanometer process.
Nanoscale used to refer to the actual size of a transistor gate, with continuous shrinkage ensuring better performance. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter; a human hair is 50,000 to 100,000 nanometers thick.) One of Intel’s founders, Gordon Moore, famous declared in 1965, these advances in chip making could be measured by the ability to reduce about twice as many transistors on a chip every two years.
But the nanoscale no longer refers to the actual distances on a chip, and Intel and others claim its current chips work like those made on TSMC’s 7-nanometer process. It plans to adopt a naming scheme that reflects this, with a new version of its 10-nanometer expected this year called Intel 7 that the company says will deliver 10 to 15 percent better performance per watt of power. The generations beyond, to come in 2023 and 2024, will be called Intel 4 and Intel 3. ”
“There is always the question of where marketing ends and where engineering begins, but that runs very deep into the reality of engineering,” Gelsinger told WIRED ahead of Monday’s announcement.
Stacy Rasgon, analyst at Bernstein Research, says the technical roadmap presented by Gelsinger looks promising, but will increase the pressure on the company to execute. “This is all great, but the danger is going to be that they’ll stick their necks out and things go wrong again,” he says.
Intel made a series of blunders under its previous leadership. The company has been slow to adapt to the switch to mobile computing, which has caused it to lose market share in favor of Arm, which is developing plans for energy efficient chips used by companies like Apple, which uses Arm-based chips for the iPhone, iPad and some Macs.
Intel has also been caught off guard by the rise of artificial intelligence. Nvidia, a “factory-less” chip company, capitalized on this trend with chips that specialize in AI calculations. Nvidia overtook Intel by market capitalization in July 2020.
On the manufacturing side, Intel has been slower than TSMC to embrace the latest method of etching features in silicon, known as Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography (EUV). On Monday, the company announced that it will increase EUV usage and has obtained the first next-generation EUV machine from ASML, a Dutch company that is the sole manufacturer of EUV machines. The initiative will be costly, as each EUV machine costs around $ 120 million.