Yield problems still plague Intel 10nm chips, delaying production to 2019

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Intel CEO, Brian Krzanich Intel

Intel has had to push back the launch of its next-generation 10nm CPUs once again, this time into 2019 — making a three-year extension from the originally planned release date. As has become a common problem with 10nm and sub-10nm hardware, getting a sufficient yield of chips at that size is still problematic and Intel doesn’t see this getting resolved in the near future.

Moore’s law might not be quite as applicable today as it once was, but die shrinks thanks to similarly shrinking transistors are still a common achievement in computing. However, 10nm has proved to be a difficult barrier to cross, with a number of different fabrication facilities struggling to create the same kinds of numbers of viable chips as they have in the past at larger die sizes.

The latest announcement from Intel follows on from previous delays of mass 10nm production. The code-named Cannon Lake CPU line built on the 10nm technology was initially planned to debut in 2016. It was then pushed back to 2018 and now Intel acknowledges mass production won’t be possible until 2019. As Engadget highlights, low-scale production continues, but what kind of capacity that has reached is unclear.

While 10nm yield problems are not uncommon for any of the major chip fabricators, that hasn’t stopped everyone from releasing hardware. TSMC has been selling 10nm chips since mid-2017 and is well on the way to developing 7nm and even 5nm advances in the technology. Samsung is on its second-generation of 10nm hardware, too, which has some worried that Intel’s own hardware may be far less impactful when it arrives.

That seems unlikely in certain markets, like the desktop and laptop market, where even with stiff competition from AMD’s Ryzen lines, Intel is still the major player. However, AMD’s roadmap suggests its Zen2 architecture will debut in 2019 and as a 7nm lineup, it could well be more advanced than Intel’s offering by that time.

It seems hard to imagine Intel’s influence in the high-end computing space waning completely, but if the last year of Ryzen has told us anything, decent competition and relatively low gains from new-generation Intel hardware can mean AMD can make significant inroads.

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