Intel's delayed transition to the 10-nm node means that every time the company wants to add a leading-edge product to its portfolio, that chip has to be made on its 14-nm process, and the company is already making a ton of 14-nm silicon. If a new report by Digitimes is correct, the company could be reaching a breaking point on fab capacity.
The site says Intel is bumping some of its low-end desktop chipset production out of its own fabs and into TSMC's to free up fab time for server CPUs and chipsets. The site reports that Intel plans to move some production of the H310 chipset and "several other 300 series desktop processors" to TSMC. DigiTimes notes that Intel already sources its SoFIA smartphone chips, some FPGA products, and modems from the Taiwanese fab.
Why is Intel manufacturing low-end chipsets on a leading-edge node to begin with? In conversations with other members of the media, I've come to understand that move is the result of the California Energy Commission's 2019 regulations. Indeed, Intel itself was involved in the state's rule-making effort and the timeline for the imposition of those regulations, and the company trumpeted its support for the rules upon their ratification. CEC 2019 imposes strict limitations on the power usage of computers and monitors in idle, sleep, and off modes.
The state believes its rules will save California utility customers 2,332 gigawatt-hours of energy usage per year, or an amount of power equal to the electricity use of all homes in San Francisco or San Luis Obispo counties in 2015. In total, those rules could save California customers $3.5 billion from 2019 to 2030, as well. Intel noted that the majority of those savings would come from PCs compliant with the new standards, and making chipsets on leading-edge processes could help cut down their energy usage in low-power states.
While Intel had no comment for DigiTimes' story, other reports point to the company being capacity-constrained for 14-nm production. SemiAccurate says that Intel's server partners apparently can't get enough supply of its Xeon Scalable chips to meet demand, so it wouldn't be a shock if the company is farming out the low-cost and potentially lower-margin H310 chipset to free up 14-nm fab time for larger, more complex processors that earn much higher profits. If these reports are correct, Intel may be under more pressure than ever to get 10-nm silicon working and shipping. The second half of 2019 apparently can't come soon enough.