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Intel solves 10nm supply shortage by turning labs into fabs during pandemic

Intel claims that it is making lemonade after the pandemic gave it lemons. In a new promotional video, the company revealed that it found new opportunities to make and produce more chips, which in turn is good news for gamers and PC buyers everywhere.

Though the pandemic had created challenges for many businesses, Intel used it to expand manufacturing capacity to combat well-known problems behind its processor shortages. In the video released on YouTube, Intel details the steps it had taken over the past several years to double capacity for its 10nm process, which is used on 11th-Gen Core processors and Intel Atom P5900 silicon, and its 14nm node.

In somewhat of a surprising twist, Intel credited the pandemic for helping it achieve its goal of producing more chips to meet global demand. With employees working from home, the company was able to transform freed-up office and lab space into manufacturing facilities to fabricate wafers to make processors.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“Over the last three years, we have doubled our wafer volume capacity, and that was a significant investment,” said Keyvan Esfarjani, Intel senior vice president and general manager of manufacturing and operations, in a prepared statement. “Moving forward, we’re not stopping … We are continuing to invest into factory capacity to ensure we can keep up with the growing needs of our customers.”

Intel is also working on improving yields to get more chips from its factories, the company stated in the video. Through Intel’s yield improvement program, the company was able to implement some process changes to extract more yield from its wafers.

Intel also claims that it has boosted yields for its 10nm chips this year, and the wafers are being produced at three facilities, two in the United States, in Oregon and Arizona, and a third in Israel. Intel’s 10nm process is also used on the company’s first discrete graphics card.

Intel DG1 Card
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Yet, despite increased manufacturing capacity and better yields, Intel says that its expansion program is part of a multiyear journey, and the company will continue its work to produce more chips. In the video, Intel claims that its efforts have boosted production output by 25% this year alone.

As Intel is finding new ways to meet demand for its 10nm chips, the company is also working on 7nm nodes. The company expects that the process will be ready by the end of 2021, and processors based on the 7nm architecture will be ready in the following year, according to company executives in an earnings call earlier this year. Rival AMD’s Ryzen processors are already using the more advanced 7nm node.

The demand for more powerful silicon has also plagued Nvidia and AMD with shortages of their own. The latter companies’ latest graphics cards have been in short supply since launch — with the pandemic raging on, more people are turning to more powerful chips to work, study, and stay entertained at home. In the case of AMD, the company’s CPUs and GPUs have been hard to come by, and the shortage is also spilling over into consoles. Nvidia expects that the silicon shortage will last at least through the first quarter of 2021.

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Chuong Nguyen
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