Early 22nm Ivy Bridge Silicon Demonstrated
Another remarkable fact about the presentation was that Intel was able to show actual prototypes of future products manufactured at the 22nm node using the novel Tri-Gate transistors in a working state. This includes notebook, desktop and server versions of the upcoming CPU codenamed Ivy Bridge slated for an early 2012 launch. Actual volume manufacturing of these chips should start in the second half of 2011, thus upholding Intel's two year cycle with new manufacturing technology.
Of course Intel sees this a bit differently, but personally I had the impression that when touting the competitive advantage of their superior manufacturing technology, it looks like they use that to cover up other deficiencies. Especially Intel's Atom comes to mind, which looks bad in some aspects when compared to ARM chips. One has to consider that ARM chips are manufactured at 40nm at best with many designs even being at the 65nm node. Intel's Atom is now moving to the 32nm node and in the presentation even full Atom SOC at 22nm were mentioned. Though when these will be ready for some real action, only Intel knows at this point.
Courtesy of Christian Anderka, Platform Architecture Specialist at Intel Germany, we were able to get some additional info, which will be detailed in the following paragraphs.
Regarding the recent rumors about Apple turning to Intel for ARM SOC manufacturing, we were told that primarily Intel develops its manufacturing processes for internal use. That means that they are not as well documented as processes of other foundries who specifically offer semiconductor manufacturing for other companies. This is due to the fact, that Intel's in-house design teams can cooperate on a higher level. Foundries like TSMC offer a lot of libraries for design software along with excessive documentation that enable engineers to utilize the technology. Intel has similar tools in-house, but some of it might not be suited for offering them to other companies. Christian pointed out, that in general Intel does not offer foundry services for other companies. However, it doesn't immediately send companies interested in a manufacturing partnership back home either. In fact Intel actually has announced a partnership with the FPGA vendor Achronix recently
He also strained that he can't really say a lot about it, other than the company would have to make a very compelling offer and start cooperating with Intel early on such a project. Due to the circumstance that Intel has a lot of manufacturing capacity; such deals could clearly make economic sense in some cases. Another reason why Intel isn't exactly asking for customers for its foundries is that Intel considers their top notch manufacturing a competitive advantage which they want to use in order to improve their products in comparison to their competition. Therefore they don't have the biggest interest in sharing that advantage with other companies. At the end of the day this will probably evaluated on a case by case basis. Regarding Apple we were told to actually ask Apple about it. Christian also said Apple could just take all chips from Intel directly, hinting at a dream of selling smartphone chips to the company. While such a move should not be considered impossible, it certainly looks rather doubtful at this point.
Since Intel just announced using 3D technology on a transistor level, we considered it logical to ask whether they will go 3D on another level as well - or more precisely die stacking. Christian kind of dodged the question by naming some research projects which Intel has announced quite some time ago. In line with Intel's general policy, no information on specific usage in products was given. Though it was hinted, that if anything, such technology would probably debut in the high-end segment.
When asked about half-node steps, Mr. Anderka pointed out, that such things must be looked at from different angles. When the competition will manufacture at the half node step of 28nm, Intel will already have their 22nm lines in full production. Also developing a process is always a tradeoff between investment and reward. For now Intel's full node steps aligned very well with their product cycles, so additional intermediate steps wouldn't make a lot of sense at this point. Generally Intel develops manufacturing processes with some goal in mind, like x% performance improvement or a y% reduction in power consumption compared to a previous generation. Mark Bohr already hinted at the following 14nm step, which is another full node down from 22nm. A technology roadmap published by Intel even shows 10nm as well, so it looks like Intel will stick with full node shrinks for at least two more generations. But at this point Intel made it very clear that they have just announced this major breakthrough at 22nm, so they are clearly not talking about 14nm now.
When asked how Intel works together with other emiconductor manufacturers on technology development, Christian noted there is already a lot of cooperation in the industry up to a certain point. Intel took the approach to lay the groundwork together with other researchers and companies, but then try to beat them to market at the end of the day. Until now this strategy seems to have worked out rather well, considering Intel is almost a full generation ahead of the competition. But Intel pointed out, that cooperation on some technologies is truly required in order to ensure healthy development of tools or wafer suppliers. For example, there is a joint effort on 450mm wafers. Also while Intel doesn't provide us with an official timeline, it says that it cooperates with a lot of other companies on getting EUV ready. Industry analysts estimate this lithography technology to be widely used only in 2015.
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