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10nm Problems Slip Ice Lake to 2019

May 15, 2018

Author: Linley Gwennap

Quarterly earnings calls are a truth serum for public companies, as the CEO must respond to investor questions without making any misleading statements that could result in shareholder lawsuits. After announcing record revenue for 1Q18, Intel’s Brian Krzanich (BK) admitted the company’s 10nm technology is in worse shape than previously disclosed, with high-volume manufacturing slipping entirely out of this year. This delay means the 9th Generation Ice Lake products won’t appear until sometime next year. We recently predicted that most Ice Lake products would launch in 2019 but held out hope that a few would ship this year.

During the call, BK said the 10nm schedule extension is necessary to implement and qualify process changes that will address the high defect rates. He mentioned using “six layers of patterning to produce a feature,” which could mean the company was unable to accurately produce 10nm transistors using self-aligned quad patterning. Intel’s minimum poly and metal pitches are notably smaller than TSMC’s, potentially explaining why Intel is experiencing low yields even as TSMC is ramping production. Replacing quad patterning with hex patterning for some critical layers would require considerable reworking of the fab process and new mask sets for all 10nm products, increasing manufacturing cost and causing the long delay.

To fill the hole in the roadmap, Intel added yet another 14nm product to its lineup. Code-named Whiskey Lake, the processor will ship later this year, likely in the third quarter. The company provided no other details on the new chip, but we expect it will target laptop PCs, replacing Kaby Lake R. Whiskey Lake is the fifth 14nm processor, although Intel considers it part of the same generation as Coffee Lake.

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