Intel to reportedly start shifting CPU production to TSMC later this year

Shawn Knight

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Why it matters: Changes are coming to Intel, and I’m not simply referring to new management. According to the latest research from a leading market intelligence firm, Intel will start outsourcing production of some of its CPUs to TSMC later this year.

According to market intelligence firm TrendForce, Intel is planning to outsource production of its Core i3 CPUs to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) in the second half of 2021 using its 5nm node. Chipzilla’s mid-range and high-end CPUs, meanwhile, are expected to enter mass production on TSMC’s 3nm node in the second half of 2022.

TrendForce’s latest investigation jives with what we heard as recently as last week with regard to Intel talking with TSMC about outsourcing some of its chip production.

According to Bloomberg’s report from last Friday, any chips that Intel sources from TSMC wouldn’t be ready for the market until 2023 at the earliest.

Back in July, Intel CEO Bob Swan said Intel would consider outsourcing some of its CPU manufacturing. At last check, the plan was for Swan to reveal Intel’s intentions during its upcoming earnings report on January 21. Earlier today, however, the company announced that Swan will be stepping down in mid-February, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the January 21 date is still on.

Image credit Sundry Photography, Pawarun Chitchirachan

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brucek

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High end 3nm in two years could be tasty, especially if that's when I can also purchase a GPU. Sounds a little too good to be true though - perhaps that more a "marketing" 3nm than say a straight reduction from today's 10nm to 3nm on the same ruler.
 
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neeyik

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Since a large portion of a CPU's die area is cache, it's worth looking at the 6T SRAM high density bit-cell figures for TSMC's respective nodes:

16FF = 0.074 square microns
N7 = 0.027 square microns
N5 = 0.021 square microns
N3 = expected to be 0.018 square microns

Along with reductions in logic density, a like-for-like N3 chip would have a die area about 25% smaller than an N5 one, or 50-ish% smaller than an N7. TSMC are mostly aiming at making significant gains in power consumption reductions with N3, looking to achieve up to a drop of 30% (for the same transistor speeds) from N5, which in turn is up to 30% less than N5 (again, all like-for-like).

Naturally, Intel discloses only a little about their processes, although their original 14nm (as used for Broadwell and Skylake) had a high density bit-cell value of 0.050 square microns, and the first iteration of the 10nm node is 0.031 square microns. Logic scales better than SRAM, and Intel have had good success in this area, but given that SRAM is the hardest to reduce, it's clear that TSMC have made far superior progress in this area than Intel have.

What would concern me, as a consumer, is whether Intel plan on having having all of their Core models outsourced, or just a portion of each line. If it's the latter, will they indicate which foundry was used to make the chip or would it be a lottery as to whether you got a TSMC or an Intel CPU? From an employee's perspective, I'd be concerned about whether Intel plan to shift all Core CPU manufacturing out of their fabs - I don't think they will, given that large number of plants they have, but I wouldn't be surprised if Intel announced job losses.
 
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Irata

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What would concern me, as a consumer, is whether Intel plan on having having all of their Core models outsourced, or just a portion of each line. If it's the latter, will they indicate which foundry was used to make the chip or would it be a lottery as to whether you got a TSMC or an Intel CPU?
As a consumer, I am personally more concerned if Intel is trying to displace competitors by shifting some of their volume to TSMC. Maybe I‘m paranoid wrt Intel but I am always looking for ulterior motives with them.

Here‘s hoping that TSMC is smart enough to see who are good long term customers that will benefit them.
 
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