Whether Intel taps the company’s own technology or a third-party foundry to manufacture its delayed 7-nanometer chips will be decided by early 2021, according to company CEO Bob Swan.
Swan made the comment on Thursday during an earnings call when he provided an update on Intel’s 7nm chips. The silicon was originally slated to arrive a year from now to help the chipmaker stay competitive with rival AMD. However, a defect in the manufacturing process has prompted Intel to delay the 7nm node to as far as early 2023.
“Since the last time we spoke, our 7nm process is doing very well,” Swan said, who added, “Now we deployed the fix and made wonderful progress.”
“But nonetheless, we are still going to evaluate third-party foundry versus our foundry across those three criteria. And the call will be toward the end of this year, early next year,” he said.
According to Swan, Intel plans to decide the matter using three main criteria: schedule predictability, product performance, and economics with the supply chain.
“And we’re evaluating each one of those as we exit 2020 and really early 2021, because that’s the time we’ll have to make the determination as to whether we’re buying more 7nm equipment or whether a third-party foundry would be adding that capacity,” he added.
If the company does choose a third-party foundry, then it opens the door for TSMC to play a role in producing Intel chips. That would be a stunning development for Intel, which has invested billions in building its own foundries. However, the company has struggled in recent years to advance the company’s 14nm chip-making process to 10nm, which only began producing CPU processors last year.
TSMC, on the other hand, has already been using its own 7nm process to build PC processors for AMD. And the products have been receiving rave reviews from the tech media since AMD’s Zen 2 architecture launched last year. In addition, TSMC is already accepting chip orders on its 5nm process, which is expected to power next-generation AMD CPU chips in 2021.
If Intel does outsource the chip manufacturing to a third-party, it may not necessarily be for PC processors. The company is indicating the third-party manufacturing could be used for certain products, such as server chips. The outsourcing could also center around a “hybrid architecture” bringing together third-party silicon with Intel-produced components.
“Is it all or nothing? No, I would say we are looking at server, client. We look at big core, small core,” Swan said during the call. “It’s probably a mix in terms of the best path to ensure we have a predictable cadence of leadership products for 2023 and 2024.”
Swan didn’t name TSMC as a potential future partner for Intel. But he did say Intel is confident the company’s own technology can efficiently “port” over to TSMC if it’s chosen as a supplier.