Last year, I spotted an interesting job listing on microprocessor giant Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) job boards. The listing talked about how the company was looking for a processor designer to work in the company's relatively new Microarchitecture Research Lab located in Bangalore, India.
This processor designer's job would be to join a team of engineers to "spearhead the research and advanced development" of both processor cores and graphics processors intended to arrive in the "2020 and beyond timeframe."
These designs, per the listing, were intended to be manufactured in Intel's "futuristic" 7-nanometer manufacturing technology, signaling that Intel planned a significant advancement with this technology.
Interestingly enough, Intel has posted an updated version of this job listing that might offer some clues into the company's future technology introduction plans.
2020 becomes 2022?
Here's the relevant quote from the updated job listing (emphasis mine):
The India Lab specifically, in collaboration with MRL-US and Intel product architecture teams worldwide, will spearhead the research and advanced development of Microprocessor Cores in the 2022 and beyond timeframe. By conceiving of and prototyping radical approaches, the Lab will aim to deliver much greater CPU power and area efficiency while still delivering industry-leading performance. The microarchitecture and design of these advanced CPUs will be aggressively co-optimized with Intel's sub-10nm technology nodes deep into the next decade.
It would appear that Intel's new launch time frame for these new processor cores has been pushed out by a couple of years, from 2020 to 2022. Although it may be the case that Intel is now targeting, perhaps, the 5-nanometer manufacturing technology with these cores, rather than the 7-nanometer technology as explicitly mentioned in the original version of this listing, I don't think Intel would have said "sub-10nm technology nodes" if that's what it meant; it would have said "sub-7nm technology nodes."
Expect the first 7-nanometer products in 2021
I suspect what's going on here is that Intel had originally planned to release products manufactured on its 7-nanometer technology in the 2020 time frame, but for whatever reason the company has delayed that until 2022.
If we consider what Intel has publicly said about its manufacturing plans, this actually makes a lot of sense. Intel is expected to go into manufacturing on its first 10-nanometer products during the second half of 2017. For simplicity, let's assume that volume availability of 10-nanometer product doesn't happen until January 2018.
Intel has said that it plans three waves of 10-nanometer technology: 10-nanometer, 10-nanometer+, and 10-nanometer++. If Intel keeps to an annual product launch cadence, then we should see volume availability of the first 10-nanometer+ products in January 2019, and the first 10-nanometer++ products in January 2020.
Based on this cadence, which is admittedly probably on the pessimistic side, the first products based on 7-nanometer would be expected to launch in January 2021 -- a bit earlier than the 2022 time frame given in the job listing.
What Intel could be planning, then, is to introduce substantially enhanced chip designs a year after the first 7-nanometer products, which could very well be modest updates to the final 10-nanometer++ products. In fact, Intel's product cadence is now referred to as "Process, Architecture, Optimization," so fundamentally new architecture products on 7-nanometer could, indeed, arrive in January 2022.
What does this mean for Intel?
It's unfortunate that Intel seems unable to get back to releasing significantly new manufacturing technologies every two years. However, because the company now plans to make annual performance improvements to each new technology over a period of three years, Intel should still be able to deliver improved and competitive products to the marketplace -- which is what ultimately matters.