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Speculation: Intel will become fabless

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With the loss of its manufacturing lead, will Intel become fabless?

  • Yes, Intel is a product designer at heart, and they will seek a more flexible fabless model.

    Votes: 20 13.0%
  • No, manufacturing is integral to Intel, and they will continue to invest to stay competitive.

    Votes: 134 87.0%

  • Total voters
    154

DrMrLordX

Lifer
Apr 27, 2000
17,094
6,100
136
I think they might be a perfect match.
That's an interesting take. On the one hand, their IP and base of engineering talent has 0 experience on any nodes smaller than their 12nm node (actually 12nm+, plus the FDX nodes fwiw). So I don't see them as being helpful in directly fixing any of Intel's node problems. But they did a). absorb IBM's old fabs + staff plus IBM's 32HP node and b). license/adapt 14nm from Samsung so they do have experience on how to adapt to survive. Maybe that experience combined with a licensed node from one of the active foundries (Samsung or TSMC) would be enough to keep Intel afloat for awhile yet.

I still don't see Intel surviving as an IDM of any kind without bending a knee to Samsung or TSMC.
 
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Ajay

Diamond Member
Jan 8, 2001
8,412
3,254
136
That's an interesting take. On the one hand, their IP and base of engineering talent has 0 experience on any nodes smaller than their 12nm node (actually 12nm+, plus the FDX nodes fwiw). So I don't see them as being helpful in directly fixing any of Intel's node problems. But they did a). absorb IBM's old fabs + staff plus IBM's 32HP node and b). license/adapt 14nm from Samsung so they do have experience on how to adapt to survive. Maybe that experience combined with a licensed node from one of the active foundries (Samsung or TSMC) would be enough to keep Intel afloat for awhile yet.

I still don't see Intel surviving as an IDM of any kind without bending a knee to Samsung or TSMC.
Seems like TSMC only sees their involvement with Intel as transitional. That leaves Samsung, which is having problems like Intel right now. I thought they might be a good match at first, but now I'm thinking the cultural differences (business culture and actual) will be a huge hurdle for a partnership. Samsung isn't doing well enough to just sell it's processes to Intel. Something more clever needs to be done. Intel has the volume, as best I can tell based on 14nm's high utilization, to remain an IDM from a financial standpoint.
 
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scannall

Golden Member
Jan 1, 2012
1,775
1,227
136
That's an interesting take. On the one hand, their IP and base of engineering talent has 0 experience on any nodes smaller than their 12nm node (actually 12nm+, plus the FDX nodes fwiw). So I don't see them as being helpful in directly fixing any of Intel's node problems. But they did a). absorb IBM's old fabs + staff plus IBM's 32HP node and b). license/adapt 14nm from Samsung so they do have experience on how to adapt to survive. Maybe that experience combined with a licensed node from one of the active foundries (Samsung or TSMC) would be enough to keep Intel afloat for awhile yet.

I still don't see Intel surviving as an IDM of any kind without bending a knee to Samsung or TSMC.
People seem to be forgetting that GF got a working 7nm 'gift' from IBM, and their process engineers. They chose however to not spend money building a new fab and/or getting the equipment to produce them.
 
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NTMBK

Diamond Member
Nov 14, 2011
9,222
2,546
136
People seem to be forgetting that GF got a working 7nm 'gift' from IBM, and their process engineers. They chose however to not spend money building a new fab and/or getting the equipment to produce them.
A process that "works" for IBM mainframe might not be economically viable for mass market CPUs.
 
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Doug S

Senior member
Feb 8, 2020
549
738
96
A process that "works" for IBM mainframe might not be economically viable for mass market CPUs.
Economic viability of a process (once the fixed cost is sunk to build the fab and develop the process) is basically down to yield, and if you yield well enough for the giant chips IBM uses in their mainframes, you will yield just fine for the smaller chips most customers want.
 

Spartak

Senior member
Jul 4, 2015
352
263
136
I don't believe the IBM 7nm process would be ready to go after they install a bunch of EUV machines. Also: it would be similar to the TSMC/Samsung 7nm node, not the Intel 7nm that's ~50% denser.
 

NTMBK

Diamond Member
Nov 14, 2011
9,222
2,546
136
Economic viability of a process (once the fixed cost is sunk to build the fab and develop the process) is basically down to yield, and if you yield well enough for the giant chips IBM uses in their mainframes, you will yield just fine for the smaller chips most customers want.
With the prices IBM charges for mainframes, I imagine that you could probably eat yields as bad as 1-2 viable chips per wafer.
 

scannall

Golden Member
Jan 1, 2012
1,775
1,227
136
With the prices IBM charges for mainframes, I imagine that you could probably eat yields as bad as 1-2 viable chips per wafer.
The Power9 CPU's aren't as expensive as you might think. The 22 core model is roughly $3400. 22 cores and 88 threads isn't bad. 2.75 Ghz base, 3.8 Ghz boost. It's a 190 watt part as well.
 

DrMrLordX

Lifer
Apr 27, 2000
17,094
6,100
136
People seem to be forgetting that GF got a working 7nm 'gift' from IBM, and their process engineers. They chose however to not spend money building a new fab and/or getting the equipment to produce them.
Actually I wasn't even aware of that. Wasn't IBM forced to move POWER fabrication entirely away from GF due to their failure to advance in node tech?
 

sfpietri

Junior Member
Aug 4, 2020
1
0
6
This is a wake up call from the Street to (the GM of) Intel fabs. Do you want to keep your job? Show me some results in 7nm and they'd better be great and on time, or else ...

As of today, Intel is turning into a one Gig player after divesting in a few biz. This could be good news if the money generated goes to fund long term projects for the next computing wave after Intel lost the mobile computing opportunity.

The competitive advantage of having your own fab is huge, TSMC gross margin is still >50%, that means the 45 B$ profit would become 22.5 B$ if you don't count the cost saving once you don't run the fabs... not to mention that manufacturers may not be too gentle with pricing once the competition is gone.

I am very curious to see what happens the day TSMC gets a virtual monopoly on 5nm and 3 nm.
 

Gideon

Golden Member
Nov 27, 2007
1,242
2,337
136
I am very curious to see what happens the day TSMC gets a virtual monopoly on 5nm and 3 nm.
This is looks like more and more the case. Apparently Qualcomm is also shifting it's 5nm Samsung efforts to TSMC

I really hope Samsung's Nanosheet 3nm lives up to all the hype, but considering how they blew EUV after claiming of being faster than anyone else ... not that likely :(
 

Ajay

Diamond Member
Jan 8, 2001
8,412
3,254
136
Wow, losing a big customer like Qualcomm is really going to hurt Samsung. Their 5nm process must have been missing early development targets for QC to jump ship.
 

PingSpike

Lifer
Feb 25, 2004
21,462
373
126
This is a wake up call from the Street to (the GM of) Intel fabs. Do you want to keep your job? Show me some results in 7nm and they'd better be great and on time, or else ...
Maybe its not even possible to do that with the current situation. Then you'll just end up with another BK character because realistic people won't get hired. So they'll get some that just says everything is fine and waits for their stock to vest before being fired/retiring.

Recall the CEO search recently ended with them hiring one of their own bean counters. I wouldn't be surprised if most qualified candidates looked at Intel's situation, looked at the board that got it into this mess still existing, thought to themselves "there's 5-10 years of work here, and these goons will fire me when its not done in 3 because they're getting desperate" and then declined.
 

JasonLD

Senior member
Aug 22, 2017
316
288
106
This is looks like more and more the case. Apparently Qualcomm is also shifting it's 5nm Samsung efforts to TSMC

I really hope Samsung's Nanosheet 3nm lives up to all the hype, but considering how they blew EUV after claiming of being faster than anyone else ... not that likely :(

Well, I guess we will find out when Qualcomm reveals Snapdragon 875G. China and Taiwanese media tends to overexaggerate Samsung's problem so I wouldn't take it as face value.
 
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Lodix

Senior member
Jun 24, 2016
306
87
101
Taiwanese media are too biased. Samsung just made an statement that the rumours about their 5nm delay are false. Also it doesn't make any sense to me this rumour of switching the SD875 production in the middle of 2021 from SS to TSMC. By that time almost all the production is done and they are totally different processes to make a port easily.
 

Doug S

Senior member
Feb 8, 2020
549
738
96
Does Qualcomm ever dual source their SoCs? If for no other reason than Samsung probably wants the SoCs they put in their non-Exynos phones made in their own fabs.
 

Lodix

Senior member
Jun 24, 2016
306
87
101
Does Qualcomm ever dual source their SoCs? If for no other reason than Samsung probably wants the SoCs they put in their non-Exynos phones made in their own fabs.
Nope, they have never done that. This "rumour" makes no sense.
 

vstar

Member
May 8, 2019
36
25
61
Looks like the huge TSMC 6nm order could partially be explained by the outsourcing of Xe-HPG dies for gaming GPUs :


We will very likely hear more about this in the next couple of weeks (Hot chips).
 

Vattila

Senior member
Oct 22, 2004
568
645
136
Intel’s manufacturing crisis puts company at a crossroads

"Intel shows no sign of changing course, telling employees this month that owning its own fabs gives the company “the ability to control our own destiny.”"

"Keyvan Esfarjani, the newly appointed head of Intel’s manufacturing group, wrote to his organization Aug. 7 to affirm that integrated design and manufacturing “continues to be a crucial differentiator and advantage for Intel.” “We get a competitive advantage from the strong connection between products and process design and will continue to invest in our future process technology roadmap,” Esfarjani wrote. “Also, operating our fabs gives us the ability to control our own destiny in terms of capacity and flexibility for supply.” “Contingency plans” to outsource some manufacturing is a matter of giving Intel flexibility, Esfarjani wrote. He said Intel’s 10nm production is running 20% ahead of what it expected in January and he insisted the outlook is strong."

oregonlive.com

It seems their "contingency plan" is of the small mitigating kind, while the main plan is to get back to business-as-usual.

Will Intel stomach spending much on their contingency plans? The cost of taping out chips on leading-edge processes is becoming astronomical, so having chips ready at TSMC if internal manufacturing fails seems expensive. Can they do contingency planning on the cheap without affecting beloved margins? They are already taking a painful cut to their gross margins as they ramp up production for Tiger Lake and upcoming products on their expensive low-yielding 10nm process.

And how can they get a supply agreement of sufficient magnitude and longevity, if it is just a contingency?
 

moinmoin

Platinum Member
Jun 1, 2017
2,419
3,012
106
the main plan is to get back to business-as-usual.
I have to wonder what they would consider as business-as-usual to get back to? Technically the business-as-usual they should strive for is the one from a decade ago, before their node cadence started to stutter more and more. And as we discussed already a lot of staff from back then is gone as well, either retired, let go or jumped ship. A contingency plan is fine if they are working on a feasible master plan. But such is indeed hard to see coming so far.
 
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