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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  • halcyon - Friday, December 07, 2018 - link

    Quoted from the article: "four years after the 10 nm"

    Indeed, does this mean that first production will start in 2022-2023.

    And big volume production by late 2023 or early 2024?

    That is still a long ways off.

    Interesting that Intel has had to resort to marketing technology this far out.

    Perhaps the investor pressure has finally gotten to them?
    Reply
  • eva02langley - Thursday, December 06, 2018 - link

    Okay, so this seems to be way truer than what Intel responded after the fact:

    https://www.semiaccurate.com/2018/10/22/intel-kill...

    10nm seems way more unlikely as more as time is passing.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Thursday, December 06, 2018 - link

    While Intel has 10 nm on their roadmap, one has to wonder how much benefit there is doing it if 7 nm is so close.

    Several high profile 10 nm designs have already been canceled (Cannon Lake on desktop, Xeon Phi etc.). There are a couple of mobile parts Intel could still move but volume certainly wouldn't be what they'd initially had hoped. At some point management has to look at the costs of starting high volume production vs. waiting for 7 nm.
    Reply
  • JoeyJoJo123 - Thursday, December 06, 2018 - link

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

    Somehow, I doubt this. This is likely optimistic announcements, like the last 4 times they said 10nm was coming soon(tm), to please stakeholders and prevent people from dumping their stock.

    I'll believe it when I see it. Trends show Intel hasn't been able to meet their optimistic predictions on node shrinks. I don't see that trend changing.
    Reply
  • eva02langley - Thursday, December 06, 2018 - link

    I honestly believe that Intel might go fabless in 10 years. There is no reason to keep fighting Samsung and TSMC if they have the same process and offer better yield and better raw supplies.

    I am sure they will keep their 14nm and 7nm fabs, but why would they try to push it further if the competition is there faster? All the big companies are fabless anyway.
    Reply
  • Anymoore - Thursday, December 06, 2018 - link

    Intel still wants pellicles for EUV: https://www.euvlitho.com/2018/P4.pdf "Every tool has shown defects after weeks of clean performance" Reply
  • yannigr2 - Thursday, December 06, 2018 - link

    10nm from Intel are also on track the last 4-5 years. Reply
  • PeachNCream - Thursday, December 06, 2018 - link

    This is good news in general. Since Intel's response to Zen was to simply throw in more cores and therefore toss energy efficiency out the window on high end chips like the 9900k in order to keep up with the competition a move to a 7nm may help to mitigate some of that power and heat stupidity. The last thing computers need is for CPUs to follow the trail being blazed by GPUs and their ever inflating power needs. Reply
  • s.yu - Thursday, December 06, 2018 - link

    "defined a different optimization point between transistor density, power and performance and schedule predictability"...so this means that they've just assigned lower densities to the same names to meet the schedule. Reply
  • iwod - Thursday, December 06, 2018 - link

    So 2H 2019 for 10nm, and they are not dumping 10nm, but moving 7nm in slightly earlier? Original Schedule was 4 years for 10nm? I give them 2 years for 10nm, that is still 2021 for 7nm, how is it "on track"

    Intel keep moving their own goal post they forgot whatever it was they set / said in the first place.
    Reply

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