Intel: We know how to make 10nm chips

Intel: We know how to make 10nm chips

Summary: Intel researchers believe they have a workable manufacturing method for 10nm processors, paving the way for future chips that consume less power and have greater performance than their forebears.


Intel researchers think they have cracked the 10nm manufacturing problem, paving the way for advanced chips that consume very little power.

The chip company's Ivy Bridge and Haswell chips are due to be built on its 22nm tri-gate process. After that, the company will move to 14nm and is expecting to start making chips with that process in late 2013 or early 2014. On Wednesday at the Intel Developer Forum, the company revealed that it thinks it knows how to build to 10nm as well.

Intel is exploring a spread of technologies for manufacturing new chips. Image: Jack Clark

The process a chip is made to dictates the density with which transistors can be packed together and the efficiency with which they use power, so new manufacturing methods at finer detail levels allow for better chips.

"The 14nm technology is in full development mode now and on track for full production readiness at the end of next year," Mark Bohr, director of process architecture and integration for Intel's technology manufacturing group, said. "Right now I'm spending my time personally on 10nm pathfinding and it looks like we have a solution there."

The 10nm solution may rely on a number of experimental technologies (pictured) potentially based around photonics, graphene, materials synthesis, dense memory, nanowires, extreme ultra violet lithography (EUV) and updated tri-gate transistors, Bohr said.

When it comes to how the 10nm chips will be manufactured, Intel has an immersion lithography method that works, though it would prefer to use EUV.

"I'd like to have EUV for 10, but I can't bet that it would be ready in time," Bohr said, hinting at the difficulties in using this method. EUV has much higher costs than immersion lithography.

Intel's research group are also exploring technologies for 7nm and 5nm solutions, though these are a very long way off as 10nm is not expected to go into production qualification until 2015.

Bohr capped off his talk by noting that Intel, unlike chip rivals AMD and ARM, owns and operates its manufacturing facilities.

"Yes, [process development] requires huge investments, but it also provides huge economic advantages," he said.

ARM licenses its chips and they are predominantly made in foundries operated by Samsung, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, and GlobalFoundries. AMD uses GlobalFoundries. Intel has a three-year lead over these companies in terms of process, and with the news on Wednesday it looks like it could maintain that far into the future.

Topics: Processors, Emerging Tech, Intel

Jack Clark

About Jack Clark

Currently a reporter for ZDNet UK, I previously worked as a technology researcher and reporter for a London-based news agency.

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  • Only Intel NEEDS To Make 10nm Chips

    ARM chips are so much simpler, with fewer transistors, that they can be made with larger, older, above all *cheaper* processes, and still beat Intel on power consumption and size, as well as cost.

    Intel is too wedded to its bloated, complex, resource-hungry x86 architecture. The only market where customers care about compatibility with that is the old, stagnant desktop. In the new, growing mobile market, nobody buys devices based on their ability to run Windows (as Microsoft is discovering). Intel should dust off that ARM licence it is still reputed to hold, and get cracking using its legendary fab capabilities to produce something that people really want to buy.
    • You missed one big point

      ARM chips will NOT beat Intel chips when it comes to pure CPU power. Not everybody needs light computing. Where are those ARM supercomputers? NONE.
      • Re: Where are those ARM supercomputers?

        Not sure if you've been keeping up with supercomputer news or not, but the Chinese recently brought out a MIPS-based machine that debuted at, I think, number 15 on the Top500. The interesting thing is that its power consumption is only 1MW, which is about an order of magnitude less than anything in its class.

        So power bills are expensive, even for people who can afford supercomputers.
        • RISC ones as well

          Hey ldo17, additionally the 25th most powerful computer on the recent top 500 list is a Chinese computer using "Shenwei" RISC chips. So not ARM but same fundamental CPU architecture. Thanks for reading.
          Jack Clark
          • helo

            ARM (formerly Advanced RISC Machine ) so yes it is a arm computer read more learn more
          • different approach

            RISC same architecture but Shenwei developed independently of modern ARM processors by Chinese academics & defence community. I take your point, but it's not a pure ARM processor if we're talking about the company as ARM didn't have much to do with the design, though yes the architecture is the same. Thanks for commenting.
            Jack Clark
        • Not the same subject with your ARM "supercomputer".

          The point is that, the ARM chips do not beat the Intel chips in processing power. But, the Intel chips are getting smaller and, eventually, the difference in power consumption between the 2 different architectures will be minimal or nonexistent, while, the Intel chips will continue to outperform the ARM chips.
          • "Supercomputers" tend to be massively parralel machines,

            so any processor you care to use can be used to make one. What most folks who don't actually wrestle with the silicon and write machine code (yes, virginia, there IS still a use for puer assembly even in todays world of HLLs) forget is all the core extensions the Intel chips have. Predictive branch logic, very tight integration of the memory controller, the DMA controller and the peripheral controller on the chip that makes the old and antiquated AHB on most ARM chips look positively 1980's. There are more coprocessors in a single high end x86 chip than most embedded ARM chips have in pure peripherals, and all contribute to raw computing power for those high end x86 chips. Add those "features" to an ARM and it might beat the x86, but it'll draw about as much power.
          • Re: But, the Intel chips are getting smaller ...

            So are the ARM chips. And ARM being such a smaller, simpler architecture to begin with, it can be fabbed on processes a couple of steps behind x86 and still wipe the floor with the latter on power consumption and cost. This is why ARM outships x86 by over 10:1 and rising, and it’s why your mobile phone has an ARM chip inside it instead of x86. And also why Microsoft Windows Phone will run on ARM, but not x86.

            Intel is too wedded to its bloated, complex, resource-hungry x86 architecture. The only market where customers care about compatibility with that is the old, stagnant desktop. In the new, growing mobile market, nobody buys devices based on their ability to run Windows (as Microsoft is discovering). Intel should dust off that ARM licence it is still reputed to hold, and get cracking using its legendary fab capabilities to produce something that people really want to buy.
          • Yet, with one x86 processor, you can get many times the performance of an

            ARM cpu, so, you really would need at least 10 ARMs to do the work of on Intel CPU, and then, you're talking about the price differential disappearing, and the size of the multiple ARMs ending up being bigger than the single Intel CPU.

            Face it, the ARM is limited and for such work, it doesn't need to be bigger and can be many times less expensive. It's like getting having to get 10 Honda Civics to transport the same number of people that a single bus could handle in one shot. But, the bus will still have plenty of power left over, and the Civics will be running at max.

            Compare all you want, but the fact remains that, ARMs can't begin to compare, and are intended for limited purposes. The Intels can handle any computing job tossed at them.
          • x86 is technically more efficient and has benefits too

            I'm going to bring in Android fragmentation here as the reason x86 is better than ARM. You claim compatibility is limited to the Desktop market, but in reality, that same legacy support in x86 could end Android fragmentation for good. By fragmentation, I mean the issues that cause a certain to work on an S3 but crash on a Droid Razr, but run perfectly on an EVO even though all three devices may be running the same version of Android.

            This level of fragmentation is caused by the lack of universal generic drivers for ARM. Therefore, it's up to the OEM's to create their own 3rd party drivers which are sometimes poorly made or incompatible with other devices. x86 does not have this weakness and is universally supported. That's why you can install Windows on any x86 machine without the need to hunt down CPU/chipset specific drivers. It's also why it's possible to install OS X on any standard PC hardware. That universal support is very important and why x86 remains better than ARM.

            Also, since x86 is a CISC processor, it is more efficient in more advanced calculations. And even simple calculations are more efficient with CISC. For example, if you were to solve the problem 2^3 with CISC and RISC, it would go like this:

            CISC: 2^3 = 8

            RISC: 2^3 = 2*2*2
            2*2 = 4
            4*2 = 8

            Which looks more efficient to you? Also, keep in mind that Intel has finally managed to match the low power usage of ARM while maintaining performance. So far, the single core Intel Atom SoC (Medfield), is almost on par with the latest quad-core Tegra 3. The next chip from Intel will be a dual-core Intel Atom which will double the performance of the original SoC thus making Intel Atom's dual-core iteration almost twice as powerful as a Tegra 3. Imagine what'll happen once Intel gets their SoC's up to quad-core's WITH Hyper-Threading?

            I don't think you realize how weak ARM chips are. In terms of pure processing power, a Tegra 3, probably one of the most powerful ARM CPU's today, is only about as powerful as a high-end Pentium 3 to a mid-range Pentium 4. And don't forget graphics performance of ARM. ARM chips are only capable of running games that look like they're from the late 90's or early 2000's. x86, including Intel HD Graphics, is capable of running games like Crysis, Halo, Call of Duty, and Gears of War. And don't even pull the whole "mobile devices/tablets are designed for light computing" on me. Intel-based Windows tablets are fully capable of running modern games including Crysis. With the introduction of these new lower-power chips matching ARM, there's no comparison.

            The whole CISC vs. RISC argument is pointless because at this point, both architectures use the same amount of power. Therefore, the arguments should be about performance. And right now, as it's always been, CISC in the form of x86 is A LOT more powerful than ARM.
          • Depending on the application

            I've yet to see graphs showing how many ARM CPUs are needed to match Intel's -- and if it requires so many more ARM CPUs that the power savings is negated...

            And people don't even know what they buy. It's told to them via polished marketing campaigns. Why think when they do it for you? Just be sure to wear the T-shirt with their logo emblazoned on it for free advertising too...
      • performance to power

        I think ARM is already winning the performance / watt metric. Compare the iPhone 5, which uses an ARM architecture dual core CPU, supposedly at 1.3ghz (originally reported as about 1.0ghz but updated estimates in the last day or two with new benchmark software put it at 1.29ghz) to the Lava XOLO x900 which uses a single core 1.6ghz Intel ATOM chip in a slightly larger package. The slower but dual core A6 ARM based CPU trounces the Intel CPU in benchmarks and uses less power.
    • x86 Architecture

      If Intel stopped producing chips with x86 based instruction sets, there would be a massive outcry. The world would basically end after its instruction sets were removed.

      Intel is much like Microsoft, its a necessary evil in the marketplace. Without Intel producing x86, who else does ? AMD ? Not bloody likely. If everyone swapped to ARM overnight sure. Since thats physically impossible due to severe dependencies on the x86 instruction sets, Intel isnt going anywhere but UP anytime soon.
    • It's Intel servers behind the ARM designer

      Which are those super servers with best in class performance per watt and computation horse power that deliver the ARM processors design? Answer: Intel x86

      What are those servers with super computing horse power enabling ARM, Qualcom, Samsung, TI, designing their ARM chips? Answer: go figure out. x86, no?

      Without x86 computing power, can you have ARM design churn out every year?

      It's a symbiosis relationship for x86 and ARM, Don't undermine x86 (aka Intel & AMD)...ARM and x86 need each other.
    • Processor market

      I, for one, have purchased several desktop systems (running Windows and Linux) in the last few years and a single mobile device.

      However, I do wish Intel would junk its x86 architecture in favor of a fresh design, even for desktop processors.

      The transition would be painful, but the benefits great.

      Obviously, x86 emulation would be needed for several years, and virtually all software would have processor-specific executables (which occurs now with 32 and 64 bit applications).
      Ed Noneofyourbiz
  • 10 nm dock your smartphone

    By that time, it will be powerful enough and power efficient enough to put in a smart phone. Whenever you want to connect up to a large screen just dock it and connect to a wireless display and start doing more precision required work. When you are mobile, just undock and go about your business. Future looks like bright. :)
  • "Nobody buys devices because they can run windows"???

    You mean, except for about 90% of the market?
    • Yep

      I'm a PC and X86 Windows guy for life. Go Intel and Go Microsoft. Arm can enjoy its hey day for a little longer but Intel will cut in over the next couple of years.
    • Re: You mean, except for about 90% of the market?

      90% of WHICH market, sonny boy? You realize that Microsoft Windows ships about a million copies a day, while Android is up to 1.3 million and still growing? Or that ARM chips (which don't run Windows) outship Intel chips by over 10:1? Even MIPS chips ship half a billion a year, which is more than Intel can manage.