According to rumours on the internet that are now just hours old, Intel may have abandoned their oft-delayed 10nm production process, and will be heading into 2019 without a long-term roadmap that includes significant 10nm capacity.
That’s the story coming out from Semi-Accurate, a well-known source of leaks deep from within the IT industry, and a source that’s been constantly pointing to issues with Intel’s process and how it’s affecting their partners. According to editor Charlie Demerjian, this decision could set Intel back a couple of years. The article that started off the new round of rumours is paywalled, but what little text is open to the public suggests that something has changed behind the scenes.
“SemiAccurate has learned that Intel just pulled the plug on their struggling 10nm process,” writes Demerjian. “For several years now SemiAccurate has been saying the the 10nm process as proposed by Intel would never be financially viable. Now we are hearing from trusted moles that the process is indeed dead and that is a good thing for Intel, if they had continued along their current path the disaster would have been untenable. Our moles are saying the deed has finally been done.”
Demerjian also notes that the road forward for Intel isn’t certain either. “The knifing of 10nm shows that Intel is finally willing to do the right things for the right reasons even if it costs them some short term pain, it is the first adult decision we have seen from the company in several years,” he adds.
If this is true, a lot of things now change for Intel’s long-term outlook. The company already has some 10nm production capacity in place, mostly used for taping out and improving their process. Part of that capacity is also used to make the Intel Core i3-8121U processor, some 10nm FPGA chips, and it was going to be used for making 5G-capable LTE modems. Intel has previously said that the problems with the node are well understood and fixable, but they’re not exactly forthcoming on what those issued were to begin with, or why the technology has been delayed for more than five years already.
The last time Intel had any new information on the process, they claimed that 10nm products would be readily available for consumers to purchase by holiday season 2019. That release window was later revised to just “2019” in a press release on Intel’s website addressing the 14nm capacity rumours, where the company said it was spending $1 billion on addressing the supply shortages by ramping up production in their existing plants all around the world. According to interim CEO Bob Swan, “We’re making progress with 10nm. Yields are improving and we continue to expect volume production in 2019.” If they’re cancelling those 10nm plans barely a month later, the company is likely gearing up for a change in leadership to address these issues.
Five days ago, Intel announced plans to restructure their manufacturing group into three distinct operations, headed up by different people. These are Technology Development, Manufacturing and Operations, and Supply Chain, which are to be run by Intel CTO Mike Mayberry, Intel executive Ann Helleher, and Intel executive Randhir Thakur, respectively. The group is taking over jointly from Sohail Ahmed, the previous senior vice president and general manager of the technology and manufacturing group. In a goodbye letter to employees, Ahmed said that he was taking an early retirement at the age of 60, after working for Intel for more than three decades. The restructuring has one main goal, which is to separate the parts of the company’s manufacturing division into distinct groups and concentrate efforts on individual projects that may be beneficial to getting into on to the next production process (either 10nm, or the future 7nm node).
The three new groups, however, aren’t reporting to Bob Swan, but instead reporting to directly to Dr. Murthy Renduchintala, the current group president of the Technology, Systems Architecture & Client Group and chief engineering officer at Intel Corporation. Renduchintala was hired by Intel after leaving Qualcomm in 2015, and has been involved in several drastic changes recently at the company including the hiring of architect Jim Keller.
Intel’s earnings call for Q3 2018 will be held three days from now. If these rumours are true, that’s going to be a very interesting meeting.