Originally planned to enter mass production in the second half of 2016, Intel’s 10 nm process technology is still barely used by the company today. Currently the process is used to produce just a handful of CPUs, ahead of an expected ramp to high-volume manufacturing (HVM) only later in 2019. Without a doubt, Intel suffered delays on its 10 nm process by several years, significantly impacting the company's product lineup and its business.

Now, as it turns out, Intel’s 10 nm may be a short-living node as the company’s 7 nm tech is on-track for introduction in accordance with its original schedule.

For a number of times Intel said that it set too aggressive scaling/transistor density targets for its 10 nm fabrication process, which is why its development ran into problems. Intel’s 10 nm manufacturing tech relies exclusively on deep ultraviolet lithography (DUVL) with lasers operating on a 193 nm wavelength. To enable the fine feature sizes that Intel set out to achieve on 10 nm, the process had to make heavy usage of mutli-patterning. According to Intel, a problem of the process was precisely its heavy usage of multipatterning (quad-patterning to be more exact).

By contrast, Intel’s 7 nm production tech will use extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUVL) with laser wavelength of 13.5 nm for select layers, reducing use of multipatterning for certain metal layers and therefore simplifying production and shortening cycle times. As it appears, the 7 nm fabrication process had been in development separately from the 10 nm tech and by a different team. As a result, its development is well underway and is projected to enter HVM in accordance with Intel’s unannounced roadmap, the company says.

Murthy Renduchintala, chief engineering officer and president of technology, systems architecture and client group at Intel is quoted to have said at the Nasdaq's 39th Investor Conference:

“7 nm for us is a separate team and largely a separate effort. We are quite pleased with our progress on 7 nm. In fact, very pleased with our progress on 7 nm. I think that we have taken a lot of lessons out of the 10 nm experience as we defined that and defined a different optimization point between transistor density, power and performance and schedule predictability. […] So, we are very, very focused on getting 7 nm out according to our original internal plans.”

The Intel exec reaffirmed the company plans to start HVM production of client CPUs using its 10 nm process technology in 2019, with datacenter products following on a bit later. That said, Intel is clearly not skipping any of its already announced 10 nm products, but implies that its 7 nm products may hit the market earlier than we might expect today (i.e., four years after the 10 nm).

“One thing I will say is that as you look at 7 nm, for us this is really now a point in time where we will get EUV back into the manufacturing matrix, and therefore, I think, that will give us a degree of back to the traditional Moore’s Law cadence that we were really talking about,”

“[With 7 nm] we are going back to more like a 2X scaling factor […] and then really moving forward with that goal.”

Intel has never disclosed characteristics of its 7 nm fabrication tech, but a major reduction of multi-patterning usage as well as a more traditional 2X scaling goal vs. 10 nm indicates a more extensive usage of EUVL.

According to ASML, one EUV layer requires one EUV step-and-scan system for every ~45,000 wafer starts per month. Therefore, if Intel plans to use EUVL extensively for 10 to 20 layers, it will require approximately 20 to 40 EUVL scanners for a fab with a 100,000 wafer starts per month capacity. Considering that Intel is not the only company with plans to use EUVL in the 2020s, getting the number of EUVL scanners it might need for HVM at multiple fabs may be a challenge.

Meanwhile, so far Intel has announced plans for only one 7 nm fab: the Fab 42 in Arizona. In addition, the company is going to have some 7 nm-capable capacity at its D1 facility used for development and trials (among other things).

Related Reading:

Sources: Intel, SeekingAlpha

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  • evilpaul666 - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    I'm sure they want to, but they have to actually do it. It's not like they've fought back with pricing.
  • FreckledTrout - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    History shows Intel will hit back very hard. AMD hopefully will get a good deal of market share in 2019 because 2020 Intel will be on a rampage.
  • HStewart - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    Who knows Intel maybe trying for 2019 -- today's news is very interesting and they obviously have been keep it secret - even though it logically that they would correct the issue with much blacklash 10nm - with competition hyping up 7nm process it would logical that Intel skip the 10nm for revised and even faster 7nm version.

    Of course Intel's original 10nm was equivalent to competition's 7nm in terms of density, so this new version is likely even more dense.
  • 0ldman79 - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    The rumor was the density was the problem.

    They reached too far on the 10nm too fast. They increased density more on 10nm than they had in the last several previous at least.

    We have no idea what they did different with 7nm yet. Odds are they stuck to the older process density gains which would put them just a tad better than other lithographies.

    They may have had to back off of the density, that may be why 7nm is on target, because they watched 10nm fail and changed their plans accordingly.
  • HStewart - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    We will like find out on Dec 11th, who knows what the problem with older 10nm - probably Cobalt didn't work out - since they reduce the size from 10nm to 7nm - they could have close to same density.

    What ever it is, Intel has obviously decide that group doing 10nm stuff should not be involved. They did mention the 10nm was a major change in process - it obviously looks like not ready for prime time. They likely been working on this for more than year - just keeping it under raps.

    Intel has had a bad rap for 2 or more years - with 10nm stuff and Spectre/Meltdown stuff and it would be foolish to think Intel is not hard at working on making that better. I think this just a first indication of out come of such efforts - and we should find out more. One thing frustrating is that I have yet to know of known virus that uses the Spectre/Meltdown stuff - of what I seen most of seems to effect unix base servers - probably bad programming.
  • sa666666 - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, speak in broken sentences, and pass off your 'opinion' as fact. Now you're stating that Spectre/Meltdown is not Windows, but strictly a UNIX problem (bad programming, ah!). Why don't you go back to your .Net programming and leave the discussion of these issues to actual professionals.

    You know, I don't know if you're a paid troll or you honestly believe the drivel you constantly post. Either way, you are one disturbed individual.
  • PeachNCream - Friday, December 7, 2018 - link

    "You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, speak in broken sentences, and pass off your 'opinion' as fact."

    I've asked and gotten silence regarding whether or not English is a first language for HStewart, but I would be reluctant to hassle said person regarding the communication problem. Some people are simply bad at written expression. I've supervised a number of brilliant programmers and engineers that were native English speakers, but were just as impossibly bad at communicating. I'm not implying HStewart is among said brilliant folks, but that language probably shouldn't be fair game as we simply lack enough information to consider it a factor in an assessment of his motives.

    As for the speculation about him being a paid troll, I doubt it. There are people out there that will turn themselves into slobbering, irrational defenders of uncaring corporate entities for stupid reasons like avoiding buyer's remorse or to get seek attention from others even if said attention is negative. I think his actions would be viewed by Intel's marketing and PR folks as negatively impacting rather than a benefit to their objectives. If it isn't already obvious, his comments cause rather than control or mitigate damage to the brand name. The company would present a more insightful and thoughtful defense of its own operations than HStewart is capable of articulating. He strikes me as an isolated person with few aspects of his personal life that would give it any meaning so brand loyalty is what he latches himself to in order to stave off feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. You're probably better off disregarding his posts and interacting with people that are willing to engage in a give-and-take conversation rather than spout what they think is positive corporate propaganda while ignoring the value of your thoughts.
  • bobhumplick - Friday, December 7, 2018 - link

    i think they will continue with a loosened up 10nm for the destkop with quad patterning on duvl since the yields will be better on non xeon chips and maybe a 10nm+ with EUV followed by a 7nm with EUV and dual patterning around 2021 or so
  • ajc9988 - Monday, December 17, 2018 - link

    Predicted that Intel will cede EUV lead to TSMC and Samsung. In fact, according to that article, EUV was to come late 2021. This gets to their pivot to work on cobalt contacts and COAG.

    What we should see is a modified 10nm from their original design that is less dense with mainstream chips around end of 2019, then that coming to HEDT and servers in 2020. Since articles suggested Intel was looking at moving 7nm up, then next we hear is it is on track, we shouldn't see 7nm EUV until 2021 to 2022.

    Sunny Cove/Ice lake should bring around 9-11% IPC gains, which may put it just ahead of Zen 2, but Zen 3 will be coming in 2020 on 7nm+ with EUV, which does not, in itself, have any information on process performance benefits, instead giving area reduction and power efficiency in limited amounts.

    Intel will then do either their Tiger lake uarch (they rebranded naming, but we know roughly what the uarchs are) or sapphire/granite rapids in 2020-21, followed by the node shrink, which 7nm EUV from Intel is expected to be around the 3nm/5nm nodes of TSMC and Samsung, which TSMC 3nm is expected around 2022/23 while Samsung claims 3nm in 2021.

    Intel won't regain the process lead in any meaningful sense. But, that does not mean they cannot compete on microarchitectures. In fact, I do believe they will come out swinging around 2021 hard. Meanwhile, AMD will have taken market and mind share to a degree by then.

    So we are roughly in agreement except for introduction of EUV date.
  • TheJian - Friday, December 7, 2018 - link

    Market share means nothing if you don't make good margins on them as the poor guy. No point in gaining market if you're making 43mil for the year. Current prices that just leaked (wccftech) look like AMD still doesn't know how to price a product or make hay while the sun shines. You NEED R&D money and that only comes with NET INCOME yearly. Hopefully servers will save the company from themselves next year. I don't think the rampage happens until 2021 and if they get 7nm out in volume by then. Not sure how bloody they can make it if they are conservative with 7nm as it sounds as they try to not repeat 10nm fiasco. I sounds like their 7nm won't be much better than TSMC, and they are on a march with 5nm already, so even if it's good it will be facing TSMC 5nm in short order. Their 5nm risk production starts 2h2019, so they should hit with that around xmas 2020 if it's early H2 2019 for risk. Tapeouts 5nm Q2 2019. Again, not sure Intel will be ahead for long if at all right? Assuming TSMC keeps marching on (and they appear to be getting more disciplined recently, apple 7nm hit how long ago?), Intel won't be dominating fab life any time soon. The rest caught up as they blew 16B+ in mobile instead of FABS. That hurt, and I think that is a lot of why we are where we're at now. I mean, TSMC is making chips for them...LOL. That is just embarrassing for USA, but good for my AMD stock with shortages for a while :) I just hope AMD capitalizes and does NOT charge the meager pricing that was leaked for 7nm cpus. That will be a colossal waste of a year of INCOME that can easily be had vs. Intel 14nm.

    People PAY for perf and they'll certainly do it for perf AND more cores at reasonable watts finally vs. Intel. You should get better perf in almost everything but a few games probably if speeds etc are right. I really hope management FINALLY charges what they are worth rather than pricing themselves to death in a war they should NOT start (price I mean) and one they certainly can't WIN. Pissing away profit while at a major advantage should get management FIRED by the board or shareholder activists. AMD's future R&D is riding on the next 18-24 months before Intel gets back on level field of fabs, or as you called it, their "rampage" :)

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