Two sources -- DigiTimes and FanlessTech -- have reported that microprocessor giant Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) first processors built using its 10-nanometer manufacturing technology won't arrive until either mid-2018 (per FanlessTech), or the second half of 2018 (per DigiTimes). Intel's official word is that these chips, which are based on Intel's Cannon Lake architecture, will begin shipping by the end of 2017, with shipment volumes ramping up through 2018.
Although a more in-depth discussion of the Cannon Lake launch time frame is an interesting topic worthy of its own discussion -- check back soon for such a write-up if you agree with me -- I'd like to talk about the potential launch time frame of the follow-on architecture to Cannon Lake, known as Ice Lake.
What is Ice Lake?
Ice Lake should be a particularly important product for Intel. The architecture is expected to include, among other things, an overhauled processor core, a new graphics and media engine, and even a dedicated Computer Vision engine to more effectively handle augmented reality and mixed reality applications.
Intel has said that the Ice Lake processors will be manufactured using its 10-nanometer technology, though the company has declined to comment as to which of the three variants of its 10-nanometer technology it will be using. (The two candidates for Ice Lake would be its first-generation 10-nanometer tech or its second-generation 10-nanometer tech, called 10-nanometer+.)
The new manufacturing technology should enable power-consumption reductions relative to its 14-nanometer family of manufacturing technologies, while also allowing Intel to add substantially more functionality to its chips without chip sizes becoming unmanageable.
When will Intel launch Ice Lake?
Let's work under the assumption that Intel plans to launch the Cannon Lake parts in the middle of 2018. These parts, per various leaks, are expected to be suitable only for low-power applications (e.g. thin-and-light tablets and tablet/notebook hybrids).
Intel's desktop personal-computer processors, as well as its higher-performance notebook personal-computer processors during 2018 are expected to be based on the company's Coffee Lake architecture. These chips are expected to be manufactured on the company's third generation of 14-nanometer technology, known as 14-nanometer++.
For Intel to be able to deliver new products for desktop personal computers, as well as for higher-performance notebook personal computers, then it should, ideally, aim to launch Ice Lake in early 2019.
Such a release schedule would also likely lead to a shortened lifespan of the Cannon Lake products in the marketplace, but that's not a problem. Intel shortened the life of its previous generation Broadwell-architecture processors to bring out its Skylake-architecture on time, since the Broadwell-based products were late to market.
At the end of the day, I think that Intel will try to accelerate the launch of Ice Lake-based products. Even if the company is able to get the chip and the associated software ready to go, however, the company's ability to ramp Ice Lake into high-volume production will depend on the health of the company's 10-nanometer technology.
If the technology that Intel is building Ice Lake on -- either 10-nanometer or 10-nanometer+ -- is in good health sooner rather than later, I think we'll see Ice Lake sooner rather than later. If Intel is still grappling with significant manufacturing issues on whatever technology Ice Lake is supposed to land on, I'd expect the chips to arrive in the middle of 2019.