Intel's Broadwell Will Likely Slip Past Back-to-School Shopping Season
May 19, 2014 5:22 PM
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First 14 nm chip will likely not be ready until the holiday shopping season, after defect issues
Before 2013, Intel had seen several years of aggressive updates to the Core i-Series. Each spring would
bring fresh announcements of "ticks"
(architecture refreshes), which would alternate on a yearly basis. By the summer months, these chips would have
found their way into high-end laptop models
I. The Slippage
But eyed more carefully, signs of slippage to Intel's breakneck pace have been showing.
, the second generation of Core i-Series processor
launched in Jan. 2011 (Q1 2011) and began shipping almost immediately.
-- the third generation Core i-Series chips
-- were released a bit later, right at the start of Q2 2012 in April 2012. As the release -- a die shrink to 22 nanometers -- brought the tricky-to-manufacture 3D FinFET technology to the table, most wrote off this slippage as natural.
, Intel's 22 nm architecture refresh, slid back a few more months to June 2013. Some did notice this time, with rumors mounting that the die shrink to 14 nm --
might be delayed until 2015
. It turned out the reports were somewhat true -- Intel was suffering much higher defect rates than previously expected -- but Intel insisted that
chips would be
delayed only a quarter, to Q1 2014
But Q1 2014 (Jan. to Mar.) came and went and
still was a no-show in terms of shipments to OEMs. In an April 2014 earnings call, CEO Brian Krzanich insisted that the wait was almost over, saying that the chips would ship sometime in H2 2014. Most hoped this might mean Q3 2014, in time for the August-September back to school shopping season.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich [Image Source: Intel Russia]
However, while attending the
in San Mateo, Calif. this past Saturday Mr. Krzanich
delivered some disappointing news
. His comment hints to investors and customers not to get their hopes up of seeing
product shipping in time for that key sales season.
I can guarantee for holiday, and not at the last second of holiday. Back to school - that's a tight one. Back to school you have to really have it on-shelf in July, August. That's going to be tough
If the Nov.-Dec. shipping window (perhaps with a September soft launch at the Intel Developer Forum) proves accurate, Intel will have lost nearly a full year in terms of slippage over the past four launch cycles, starting with
Broadwell should be available in time for the holidays.
This slippage originates from the high defect rates that every chip fab company encounters when moving to smaller nodes. Intel typically tapes out test runs of chips and then must make the difficult decision of what will cost more -- the chips scrapped due to defects for the present process, or the cost of waiting and pushing back the refresh. No matter what Intel chooses a fair amount of chips will be lost to design flaws, the trick is minimizing that number.
II. The Danger
pocketing around $2.5B USD in profit per quarter
, so it's not exactly hurting for cash. Still, having narrowly
missed on its last two outlooks and struggling to gain ground in the mobile space
, there's fear that the world's largest PC chipmaker may see its PC and server market share gobbled up by fresher competitors.
One of Intel's most dangerous rivals
is the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Comp.
, Ltd. (
) (TSMC). TSMC is expecting to tape out 16 nm FinFET transistor-based chips late this year, possibly in Q4 2014. If all goes well, this 16 nm product could launch as early as the 2015 back-to-school shopping season. If it can pull that off, it may have closed the gap with Intel to about a year, versus
the gap of over two years process-wise that existed back in 2011
TSMC is preparing 16 nm FinFETs for a late 2014/early 2015 launch. [Image Source: Cult of Mac]
Another key rival is Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (
). Having taped out 14 nm transistors in Dec. 2012 in a test run, Samsung has been
working to mature the technology at its fabs
. Samsung has teamed up with former Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) spinoff, Global Foundries to push the technology into production. According to
The EE Times
, production is expected to begin in late H2 2014, and product may be available late in the holiday season.
Samsung and GlobalFoundries hope to ship 14 nm FinFET product by the end of 2014, as well.
That same article, though, added a grain of salt courtesy of market analysis firm International Business Strategies Inc. (IBS). Handel Jones, the firm's chief, told the publication:
IBS is expecting foundry-fabless companies also will experience delays on FinFETs similar to Intel. Also, Intel has experience of FinFETs at 22 nm, and foundry-fabless companies do not have same expertise.
So don't be surprised if third-party fabs aren't quite caught up yet with Intel when 2015 rolls around.
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The delay is NOT due to 14 nm defects, rather poor demand
5/23/2014 10:48:22 AM
I must disagree with the basic premise of the article, that defects in the 14 nm process are the basic reason that Broadwell's launch has been repeatedly delayed.
I totally agree that there were defects in the 14 nm shrink that led to unacceptably high reject rates. That is always the case and always gets corrected fairly quickly. Look at any Intel Developer Forum slide of comparative chip defect rates across generations.
The real reason for the Broadwell delay is high inventories of Haswell and Ivy Bridge devices in the channel. In weekly electronics/office advertising fliers, you'll still see third-generation Core (aka Ivy Bridge) laptops for sale. Poor demand over the past three years has caused a necessary slowdown in the tick-tock cadence.
Intel does not want to economically cripple the low-profit PC industry (e.g., Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer, Samsung) by cramming new products down the channel's throat every twelve months. That's killing the golden goose, permanently. The launch schedule has to slip.
So, rather than point the spotlight at poor demand, Intel mumbles about 14 nm chip defects.
You can track the sense-of-the-market on Intel's quarterly earnings calls by looking for a discussion of inventories. If inventories are "higher than desired", that's code words for "the chips aren't selling as fast as we make them."
My gut says the holiday 2014 Broadwell chips will feature Ultrabook low-voltage versions, and that the bulk of the Broadwell hard launch will spread out over the first two quarters of 2015 -- a year from now. As further evidence that 2015 is Broadwell's year, note the lack of facts, leaks or discussion about Sky Lake, the 14 nm new micro-architecture.
There's some good news in the delay. Since Intel is continuously pushing to improve the silicon fabrication process, the more time that passes, the better quality of the median chip. Haswell Refresh comes from the mature 22 nm process, for example, at almost no new costs to Intel. Thus, Broadwell chips arriving in Q1 2015 are going to be better on average than if Broadwell launched in January 2014.
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