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TSMC 7nm Approaches Intel’s Prowess

April 17, 2018

Author: Linley Gwennap

As Intel’s 10nm process lags further behind schedule, the company’s once formidable manufacturing advantage is disappearing. Last year, both Samsung and TSMC delivered high-volume products on their 10nm technologies, which, although nowhere near Intel’s 10nm process in density and speed, are arguably better than Intel’s 14nm.

Many people expected Intel to leapfrog these challengers by quickly moving to 10nm. On the original tick-tock schedule, that process was due in 1H16, but putting it into a regular manufacturing flow proved to be a challenge, delaying progress. Last year, the company firmly committed to volume production by the end of 2017. But it has yet to introduce a 10nm product or an updated schedule for one.

In the meantime, TSMC forged ahead with its 7nm technology, which we expect to start volume production this quarter, in preparation for the next iPhone launch. The 7nm process is likely to arrive at about the same time as Intel’s 10nm—possibly sooner if Intel suffers further delays. Furthermore, GlobalFoundries (GF) and Samsung plan to start volume production in 7nm technologies next year, well before Intel can move to its next-generation process. Those introductions will put the three leading foundries, which serve all of Intel’s major competitors, on the same level as the x86 giant.

Although their naming differs, our analysis shows that the foundries’ 7nm technologies are close to Intel’s 10nm in density and likely better in cost per transistor, although Intel appears to lead in raw transistor speed. In short, the foundry 7nm node is similar to the Intel 10nm in capabilities and, for TSMC, in schedule. As a result, Intel can no longer count on superior manufacturing technology to give its products an edge in the market.

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