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Intel are launching 10nm chips before the end of the year, despite manufacturing hell

Intel manufacturing

It seems consistent delays to the 10nm fabrication process have spiralled Intel’s launch schedule out of control across the next few years. The densely packed Cannon Lake tech – Intel’s first venture into consumer 10nm silicon – is possibly being skipped by OEM manufacturers entirely. Yet, it seems Intel are determined to release – at least on paper – their first 10nm process chips before the end of the year.

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Intel have found 10nm fabrication to be a little trickier than expected. They touted 10nm-powered laptops at CES at the start of 2017, yet by September at their Technology and Manufacturing day in China, they seemed more than happy to merely hold a successful 10nm wafer. A far cry from their initial 10nm launch schedule.

According to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, during a call with Investors, Intel are defying the naysayers and aiming for a very limited release of 10nm process chips before 2017 is over.

Intel are “on track to ship our first low-volume 10-nanometre part by the end of the year,” Krzanich says. “That will be followed by the initial ramp in the first half of 2018, with both high volume and system availability in the second half of 2018.”

The end of 2017 has already seen Intel pushing their Coffee Lake architecture out to consumers early, with these chips becoming almost impossible to purchase due to lack of availability. It seems Intel’s first venture will be little more than an assurance to investors that 10nm is definitely arriving… eventually.

Intel transistor density

Intel’s 10nm Cannon Lake architecture is expected to become a part of Intel’s eighth generation lineup, and could make it in time with this newly-expected eighth generation launch window in the second half of 2018. This could fall around the same time as the launch for their mysterious Z390 chipset and possible eight-core desktop chips.

Intel have been clear to mention that their 10nm lithography is ‘a full generation ahead’ of the ever-advancing competition in terms of density. Intel are promising a 2.7x logic transistor density improvement with Cannon Lake for peak performance and energy efficiency compared to the competition, who are supposedly getting a little laxadaisical with their process naming schemes.

Some OEM manufacturers are expected to forgo the 10nm Cannon Lake tech entirely in favour of Intel’s ninth generation Ice Lake processors in 2019. Intel’s assurances of a second half of 2018 launch for Cannon Lake may be an attempt to persuade unsure OEMs to plan for the architecture, as it may be a bumpy road ahead for Intel’s first 10nm chip otherwise.

This time next year we may finally get our hands on six-core 10nm Cannon Lake chips in laptops. For the time being, however, it looks like Intel’s 14nm+ Kaby Lake Refresh chips will be going head-to-head with AMD’s Ryzen Mobile platform for laptop dominance.