If a new report is accurate, Intel won’t allow its 14nm shortage or 10nm struggles to keep it from pushing ahead in overall chip manufacturing. Over the last few months, the company has taken several steps to address its 14nm production shortfall, including shipping a new line of recently announced ‘KF’ microprocessors without a functional GPU onboard. Now, there are reports that it’s planning to break ground on a major 7nm manufacturing expansion as well.
This news comes from The Oregonian and follows an earlier Intel announcement that it would expand its facilities in Oregon, Israel, and Ireland. A major commitment to build out the D1X fab would make sense — as we wrote last month, it wasn’t clear where Intel was going to commit to doing that work. The exact value of the deal is unclear, but fab expansions typically cost several billion dollars and the large-scale adoption of EUV (extreme ultraviolet lithography) can be expected to add additional cost. The new fab space would reportedly be the same size as the first two phases of the plant, at 1.1 million square feet.
While GlobalFoundries is no longer planning to build out its EUV installation, I had the chance to see its facilities while they were still under construction in February 2018. The amount of additional work required to outfit a fab for EUV is extensive. Retrofitting these capabilities into existing buildings is neither simple nor cheap and it may make the most sense to deploy EUV concurrently with other expansion plans where and when it is possible to do so. The Oregonian reports that Intel has told its contractors to expect an 18-month contract cycle, followed by several months of additional equipment installation. If accurate, this suggests a fairly significant capacity buildout.
Intel has largely avoided talking about specific timelines attached to 7nm. The company is well aware that customers aren’t inclined to trust its projections after repeated 10nm slips and is focused on getting that node out the door right now. The most Intel has stated is that it is “very focused on getting 7 out according to our original internal plans.” Given how much 10nm slipped over time, it’s not even clear what Intel’s “original plans” look like these days. Given the timelines under discussion and the bring-up time associated with firing up a new fab, a mid-2019 announcement with a 24-30 month timeline from breaking ground to full production would put EUV rolling out at Intel by mid-2021 or early 2022. Just remember that Intel doesn’t necessarily need to launch EUV from D1X, which means we could see an earlier introduction if the technology tips up from a different fab first.
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