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Intel delays ramp of 10nm mass production due to poor yields – report

Intel Corp. has again delayed installation of equipment necessary to produce semiconductors in high volume using 10nm process technology. It is believed that Intel experiences yield ramp issues, just like in case of its 14nm manufacturing tech, which is why it does not make sense for the company to buy and install new equipment just now.

In April, it was reported that Intel put off purchase of tools to start mass production of chips at fab 28 in Kiryat Gat, Israel, from March to December. The acquisition of the equipment is a part of a $6 billion upgrade plan for the company’s semiconductor fabrication facility, which is tremendously important for Intel. SemiWiki reports that recently the world’s largest chipmaker decided to further delay purchase of the equipment to 2016 and hence postpone volume production of chips using its 10nm fabrication process.

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Intel’s competitors on the market of semiconductors – Samsung Electronics and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. – plan to start high-volume production of 10nm products in 2015. Potentially, they may leave Intel behind with the new node, which is a bad news for Intel, which has been the technological leader of the semiconductor market for decades.

If Samsung and TSMC manage to start high-volume production of 10nm chips earlier than Intel and those processors can threat central processing units from Intel, then the latter is in trouble. At present Intel has to sell its tablet system-on-chips at a loss in order to sustain or gain market share against partners of ARM Holdings. If designers of ARM-based chips gain technological advantage over Intel and that advantage translates into performance and power consumption benefits, then Intel is in trouble since notebook designers may prefer ARM-based SoCs to Intel’s CPUs.

One thing that should be kept in mind is that Intel’s manufacturing processes are usually superior when compared to fabrication technologies by other makers of semiconductors. Newer manufacturing technologies from Intel have always featured smaller transistor fin pitch, transistor gate pitch as well as interconnection pitch than predecessors in a bid to maximize transistor density. By contrast, Intel’s rivals make trade-offs that reduce transistor density and increase per-transistor costs, which makes it harder for their customers to use those technologies. Moreover, some experts believe that Intel may introduce a new transistor structure at 10nm, improving performance and reducing power consumption of its chips. By contrast, Samsung and TSMC will continue to use FinFET transistors at 10nm. That said, it is not cast in stone that Samsung’s and TSMC’s 10nm technologies will be dramatically better than Intel’s 14nm FinFET.

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Back in May, the world’s largest maker of microprocessors promised to disclose details about its 10nm plans later this year.

Intel did not comment on the news-story.

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KitGuru Says: Given the recent unofficial information about the delay of 10nm “Cannonlake” and introduction of 14nm “Kaby Lake” processor in 2016, it is obvious that the company is slowing down its pace to 10nm. The only question is whether Intel is trying to reduce its spending to keep financial analysts happy, has technological problems it cannot resolve quickly or is just trying to develop absolutely the best 10nm process not only for its microprocessors and SoCs, but also for its foundry customers, such as Altera.

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