Intel expresses 10-nm and 7-nm confidence in investor Q&A

Intel exec Murthy Renduchintala recently spoke at length about the company's future at the 39th Nasdaq Investor Conference, and the talk has been summed up in a transcript spotted by Anandtech. Renduchintala had much to say about the company's continuing plans for its 10-nm process technology and lifted the lid a bit on its plans for 7-nm production.

As TSMC has begun volume production of chips on its 7-nm FinFET process (roughly comparable to Intel's 10-nm process in its claims for density) and Samsung claims to have won the race to EUV insertion with its own similarly-dense 7LPP node, Intel finds itself in the unfamiliar position of being left behind in the race to the limits of silicon. Investors remain understandably curious about just how well the blue team is playing catch-up.

Murthy Renduchintala. Source: Intel

Renduchintala's comments on the company's work on 10-nm chips suggest interesting times lay ahead next year as the company begins introducing those products in volume. Renduchintala flatly contradicted the notion that the company has scaled back some of its ambitions for the 10-nm process in order to boost yields. In response to one question, the exec noted that "the power and performance and transistor density targets that we set in 2014 remain the same." That could mean Intel's first 10-nm products will still achieve a roughly 2.7x density improvement over its own 14-nm process.

Renduchintala also shed some light on the company's plans for its 7-nm process technology as part of the Q&A. The company's past comments about 7-nm suggested that the fate of that process partially rested in lessons that it needed to learn from ramping 10-nm. Indeed, Renduchintala said that even though Intel's 7-nm development lies in "a separate team and a largely separate effort," that presumed team has taken "a lot of lessons out of the 10-nanometer experience as we defined that and defined a different optimization point between transistor density, power and performance and schedule predictability."

Intel's Chandler, AZ facilities, where its 7-nm Fab 42 will be located

One takeaway from those lessons appears to be a somewhat-less-ambitious scaling goal for 7 nm. Renduchintala notes that Intel 7-nm parts will return to something closer to a traditional 2x scaling goal—about 2.4x, if past comments by Intel execs hold. While that isn't news on its own, Renduchintala's statements confirm that the company's ambitions for 7 nm might wisely be more conservative in light of its 10-nm woes. Renduchintala also reiterated the fact that 7 nm will be Intel's first process with EUV lithography.

As far as when we'll see 7-nm chips, however, Renduchintala only said that the company is "very, very focused on getting 7 out according to our original internal plans"—a timeline that has never been publicly disclosed, to my knowledge. Advanced manufacturing nodes of the future are expected to have long lifespans to allow companies to recoup their investments in getting their fabs up and running, however, so it seems likely that 7-nm silicon is a long while off if Intel remains committed to ramping and refining 10-nm parts and bringing them to market across all of its product lines.

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