In the 2010 fourth quarter earnings conference call, Intel management discussed a process shrink from 32nm to 22nm. They also mentioned that they have three primary fabrication centers. With a shrink to 22nm those three facilities could be reduced to two and have the same chip output. Surprisingly, the CEO announced that Intel would be going to a four fab model. This move effectively doubles the number of chips the company could produce relative to 32nm.
What is the added capacity to be used for?
From Paul Otellini:
As we approach our 22-nanometer transition, we are increasing our investments in manufacturing to capture what we believe is a significant opportunity for growth. Stacy will walk you through more details in just in a moment, but in short the market opportunities for our 22-nanometer products are outstanding. As a result, we are growing from the model of three high volume leading-edge manufacturing fabs to four
Our 22-nanometer process will be the foundation for growing PC and server segments, as well as a broad family of Atom-based SoCs, serving smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and other embedded devices.
With the move to 22nm, Intel has grown the lead over the best in class competition to as much as two generations of manufacturing technology. This 22nm technology will also feature TriGate transistors that will increase the performance of the transistors while reducing power consumed dramatically. Some recent information indicates a reduction of 95% in quiescent power consumption when compared to 32nm planar transistors.
Intel is promoting a notebook format called the “Ultrabook”. This product is a thin packaging format similar to the MacBookAir. Intel is subsidizing tooling and supply chain establishment for PC manufacturers to the extent of $300 million. The Ultrabook, in most cases, will be too thin to use a hard disc drive, so flash based solid state drives should have huge growth as this plays out over the next 2-3 years. The boot time for an Ultrabook with a SSD will be seconds, the performance will be much higher relative to a HDD PC and it will be “always connected” even when in sleep mode. The elimination of a HDD and the low power level of the new 22nm TriGate Intel processors will extend battery life substantially.
Intel makes Solid State Drives. The Intel/Micron partnership has produced the world’s first 128Gb flash chip in the Micron/Intel joint venture fab in Singapore:
http://seekingalpha.com/news-article/2097633-photo-release-intel-micron-extend-nand-flash-technology-leadership-with-introduction-of-world-s-first-128gb-nand-device-and-mass-production-of-64gb-20nm-nand?ifp=0& The article seems to imply an eight chip stack of these chips to produce a 128GB SSD in a thumbnail size format.
Many analysts give Intel a bad rap due to their lack of involvement in smart phones and tablet computers. Some even feel that embedded ARM processors represent a serious threat to Intel long term.
The real fact is that Intel has an architecture that is very high on computational power and also higher on electrical power than these mobile devices could tolerate. Looking at this from the recent past, Intel would not call the mobile business a served market. The devices neither needed the compute power offered by intel nor could they tolerate the higher power level.
That all changes at the 22nm Trigate node. The mobile devices need for more compute power than ARM processors can provide is growing and the latest Intel technology will meet or beat the electrical power requirements of these mobile devices.
The bottom line is that Intel could not participate in this segment until now. They could, however, prepare for engagement in the mobile business. They have done this by building manufacturing capacity and designing low power functional blocks while waiting for their 22nm manufacturing plants.
We can expect some interesting announcements at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in January.
A while back Intel bought McAfee, probably not just because they like to write big checks. McAfee announced DeepSAFE at the Intel developers forum. DeepSAFE provides security near the silicon level, beneath the operating system. It is very possible that Ultrabooks shipped with the new Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs will have a final solution to the exasperating problems of malware by putting “hooks” in the chip that makes all other security software obsolete. This could be rocket fuel that launches the Ultrabook next year.
Apple and Samsung are locked into 30 different lawsuits in nine countries. To me it is obvious that Apple can no longer depend on Samsung as a supplier of critical component such as their “A” series of application processors.
The scale of this business will soon approach 300 million devices between the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. The current A5 chip is 122 sq mm in size. That means that 500 chips can be produced on a 12” wafer. 300 million chips will require a leading edge manufacturing capacity of 600,000 wafers per year. That level of capacity/technology only exists at two companies in the world, Samsung and Intel. The Intel technology is two generations advanced from the Samsung process, so moving to Intel would produce a smaller A5 chip at higher speed and even lower power.
The Citi semiconductor analyst feels this is a distinct possibility and could be made public around the end of the year. http://www.cnbc.com/id/43327072?__source=yahoo|headline|quote|text|&par=yahoo
In the latest earnings conference call, Otellini was asked if Intel is doing foundry work for anyone. His answer was that they are doing a small amount in the FPGA area (Achronix), and “a couple of strategic customers that I am unable to discuss at this time”. Would Apple be considered strategic?
While I’m at it, why would Intel do foundry work for a startup FPGA company? My guess is that Intel intends to include a chunk of FPGA in their first mobile SoC product. That would give unparalleled design flexibility to end customers who select that part.
Side note: Apple and Intel have collaborated on the development of the Thunderbolt technology used in the Apple computers. This is an exclusive arrangement for some period of time, after which it will be opened to other equipment manufacturers. Intel makes the part.
The Intel investment thesis
· Ultrabooks will stimulate a new growth cycle in PCs.
· Solid State Drives represent a $70 billion flash memory opportunity with Intel positioned well.
· Intel has a huge fabrication technology lead over the next best competitor.
· Intel is actively building out capacity to serve these new opportunities.
· Intel’s mobile engagement will begin in 2012.
· A final security solution.
· An Apple/Intel relationship is very likely to come out of nowhere to surprise the doubters.
· An SoC with embedded FPGA?
· Intel’s additional manufacturing capacity could support a relatively short term doubling of the company.