Intel turns off its tick-tock metronome

— 7:09 AM on March 23, 2016

Those familiar with the CPU industry should be familiar with Intel's long-running "tick-tock" product development strategy. The chip maker alternated between releasing products based on a smaller transistor process (a tick), followed by chips with a new architecture based on that process node (a tock). That strategy served the company well for many a year, but Intel is now turning off that proverbial metronome. In its latest 10-K filing, the chip giant said the clockwork-like cycle is coming to a close. In the company's own words:

We expect to lengthen the amount of time we will utilize our 14nm and our next generation 10nm process technologies, further optimizing our products and process technologies while meeting the yearly market cadence for product introductions.

Intel is now moving to a three-step R&D cycle: process, architecture, and optimization. Generally speaking, shrinking transistor size creates challenges in the areas of heat output, power delivery, and electromigration. Intel plans to hold on to the 14-nm process node a little longer for the release of Kaby Lake, an "optimization" that the company describes as "[having] key performance enhancements as compared to our 6th generation Intel Core family."

The company still wants to keep Moore's Law alive in an amended form, though. When discussing its silicon manufacturing acumen in the K-10 filing, the firm had to say:

We continue executing to Moore's Law by enabling new devices with higher functionality and complexity while controlling power, cost, and size. In keeping with Moore's Law, we drive a regular and predictable upgrade cycle—introducing the next generation of silicon process technology approximately every two to three years.

The filing reveals that Intel spent a staggering $12.1 billion on research and development during 2015 to keep the dream alive. That's up from $11.5 billion in 2014 and $10.6 billion in 2013.

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