We know that outsourcing will be part of the solution to Intel’s chip production problems, and according to the rumor mill, the company is ready to make a big move, and reportedly has already struck a deal to enlist TSMC’s help with its 3nm process.
The word from a DigiTimes report – citing sources from the semiconductor industry – is that Intel’s bread-and-butter CPU products will be mass produced by TSMC on 3nm in the second half of 2022, and that Intel will become TSMC’s second biggest customer after Apple.
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However, bear in mind that DigiTimes is not always the most reliable source, and indeed RetiredEngineer, the leaker who flagged this up on Twitter (via Wccftech), freely admits that there are things that don’t seem to add up in this report, and that it’s hard to take at face value.
DigiTimes Report: "Intel signed a contract to outsource CPUs to TSMC using 3nm. Crisis of shortages and process falling behind will be resolved by the end of next year.""英特爾去年簽CPU委外台積3奈米 缺貨，製程失序危機明年底解除" pic.twitter.com/TKdzj7MxgUJanuary 28, 2021
So, let’s carry several bags full of caution with us as we forge on and explore this rumor, which follows other recent speculation that Intel has plans to outsource Core i3 (low-end) chip production to TSMC on its 5nm process.
The new theory is that the big order for 3nm production in the latter half of 2022 will see TSMC making the majority of Intel’s core products, while Intel will be making a smaller proportion itself (yes – huge pinches of salt required).
This will supposedly allow Intel to focus more on research and development, enabling it to work on and hone its own process advancement going forward. The expectation is that process delays and yield difficulties will be ‘fully resolved’ by this strategy.
Watch out AMD?
Indeed, the DigiTimes report concludes that AMD will “face retaliation” from an Intel which is “relieved of [its] production crisis”, and that a rejuvenated Intel in the future will be able to intensify pricing and marketing pressure – and AMD’s hard-won market share gains could be “lost quickly”.
Again, apply your own salty condiments liberally, as that certainly feels like a pretty optimistic outlook for Intel given where it’s standing right now in the CPU battle against AMD.
Intel’s incoming CEO, Pat Gelsinger, has already said that chip production will be a dual-track effort – using Intel’s own manufacturing, alongside outsourcing – going forward, but that in 2023, the majority of chips will be made by Intel itself.
That could fit with the above rumor, in terms of next year being the major period where outsourcing is at its strongest level, and production will be quickly reined back in during 2023; but of course this is all guesswork at this point.
Others in the industry remain skeptical that Intel will outsource core products, or at least that if its main CPUs are built at a third-party fab, these will be lower-end models (as claimed by the Core i3 rumor we’ve already mentioned).
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