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).

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Sources: Intel, SeekingAlpha

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  • Wilco1 - Friday, December 7, 2018 - link

    AMD's CPUs are still going to be twice as dense anyway like they are today.
  • ajc9988 - Monday, December 17, 2018 - link

    7nm isn't planned until around 2021. They can't pull it in any closer than 2020 at best!
  • FreckledTrout - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    I'm pulling for AMD but I really can't go beyond performance per watt which the new 7nm process almost guarantees vs Intel's chips on 14nm. If AMD takes the single threaded performance crown I will be thrilled but I doubt it will happen.
  • HStewart - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    Don't you get the point of this article - it means Intel has move away from 10nm problems and invested in new 7nm process which means - Intel is going attack AMD with vengeance.

    I also think Intel is likely very upset with 8705g deal with AMD, for the GPU short ended deal with giving Intel older version of GPU. Originally I thought that was based on Apple requirement.
  • sa666666 - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    And again, totally unfounded speculation and made up facts. Where do you get this crap from?
  • FreckledTrout - Friday, December 7, 2018 - link

    Not sure what you disagree with in my statement as we are mostly saying the same thing other than your speculation on Intel being mad about the 8705g deal.
  • sing_electric - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    As I said elsewhere - the issue is that while AMD's Ryzen 3xxx processors will feature IPC and clock improvements over their current stuff, Intel's previously said that their 10nm process would be SLOWER than 14nm++, though 10nm+ would be slightly faster.

    That really puts Intel in a difficult place if reports are true and AMD's Zen 2 (Ryzen 3xxx) will have a 10-12% IPC jump, given that AMD should also be able to increase clockspeed at the same time.
  • sbrown23 - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    Good. Intel needs to be threatened. They've had it too easy for too long. The P4/Athlon64 years where AMD held the advantage lead to the major advancements with in the Core Duo/Quad series and Core i. This time I just hope AMD can keep up with the architectural advances to continue to hold Intel's feet to the fire for the long term.

    I, for one, plan to buy a Ryzen 3xxx series rather than an Intel 9th gen or whatever comes next.
  • FreckledTrout - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    The 10nm process just has clock speed issues that they wont fix until 10nm+. AMD wil have the upper hand with Zen 2 but lets not count Intel out they have the money and some really damn good engineers. Im pulling for AMD buts lets be realiztic AMD has 2019 to do its worst then Intel is going to punch back hard.
  • HStewart - Thursday, December 6, 2018 - link

    This is obviously more than just Marketing, since article shows a new Plant for 7nm process.

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