In December, we offered you a summary of inside information about Intel, published by one of the insiders. Among them (then) current information on outsourcing, ie the use of external production capacity:
Intel plans to expand the use of third-party vendors beyond the current framework and beyond what is described above. It should apply to the processors themselves (so far it was mostly chipsets, accelerators, etc.). Evaluates production options for Samsung and TSMC. The decision is likely to be made in the first quarter of 2021. Outsourcing opportunities at TSMC are limited, the company does not have many free production capacities and prefers regular customers.
The possible expansion of production with external partners and processors has been discussed several times, but Intel’s situation was not so bad that it could not manage it with its own resources. That must have changed. According to sources from the analytical company TrendForce, the decision was made that in addition to about 15-20% of Intel’s total production, which is already procured by TSMC (those chipsets, etc.), TSMC will also produce processors for Intel.
Intel counts on 5nm and 3nm TSMC processes. Which is quite a twist of fate, as in 2019 Bob Swan claimed that Intel’s 7nm process would be comparable to or better than the 5nm TSMC process, and a similar comparison fell on Intel’s 5nm process versus the 3nm TSMC. We can also believe that these claims will be fulfilled, but the important thing is that this will not happen in the foreseeable future. Already in the middle of last year, the postponement of the 7nm Intel process by (another) half-year was officially confirmed, and in December it became clear that no one in the company probably knew when it would be in a condition usable for serial production. Already last year, it was decided to move the production of accelerators Old Bridge na 7nm proces TSMC.
At the end of this year (2021), Intel should start mass production of the 5nm Core i3 at TSMC. Start of production at the end of the year may mean real availability at the beginning of 2022. The choice of Core i3 may then show that Intel wants to produce a smaller (less expensive) chip that will have a high yield on an external process. That it will not be a larger Core i5 / i7 / i9 can also be explained by the fact that Alder Lake (which will probably be affected) is still a monolith and the production of larger monoliths will not yet be profitable on the 5nm process (at least within the price segment of conventional mainstream desktop processors).
Significantly more interesting is that in 2022, Intel will start mass production of Core i3 / i5 / i7 processors on the 3nm TSMC process. Given that TSMC is set to begin series production in this process in the second half of 2022, when it will be (traditionally) Apple’s main and first customer, this timing and product mix is very interesting.
Either Intel expects this generation to be built on mini-chip technology (which will allow the processor to be assembled from small pieces of high-yield silicon), or simply, the company’s management has run out of ideas and bet everything on one card.
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