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Intel Corp. May Have Canceled Another Product

By Ashraf Eassa - Dec 20, 2017 at 11:13AM

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This one doesn't come as a surprise.

For a while, it was widely expected that chip giant Intel (INTC -1.94%) would launch the first processors built using its upcoming 10-nanometer chip manufacturing technology by the end of the year.

Intel's 10-nanometer technology, the company has repeatedly said, offers significant power efficiency and chip area benefits over its 14-nanometer technology (currently in production).

These chips, known as Cannon Lake-U and Cannon Lake-Y, were intended to go into mainstream laptops and fan-less laptop/tablet hybrids, respectively. Intel's U-series chips are rated at a 15-watt thermal design power (think of thermal design power, or TDP, as the average power consumption of the chips during heavy use over time), while the company's Y-series chips are rated at a roughly 5-6-watt thermal design power. 

An Intel desktop processor.

Image source: Intel.

Unfortunately, due to what are almost certainly continued manufacturing issues with Intel's 10-nanometer technology, those chips clearly haven't launched (it's Dec. 17 as of this writing, and it's unlikely that Intel is going to announce new processors). 

Per a tweet from FanlessTech, a source that has published reliable information about Intel processor release plans in the past, Intel is now planning to release Cannon Lake-Y in June of 2018. The user made no mention of Cannon Lake-U. 

I believe that Cannon Lake-U has been canceled and, quite frankly, for good reason. Here's why. 

What's the point?

Cannon Lake-U, based on previous leaks, is what Intel calls a 2+2 chip. That means it has two processor cores with GT2 graphics (GT2 graphics represents Intel's standard graphics configuration). 

Back in August, Intel announced a processor called Kaby Lake Refresh-U which had four cores, GT2 graphics, and fit in the same 15-watt thermal design power that Cannon Lake-U was expected to. 

Then, just recently, word leaked that Intel was preparing a processor known as Whiskey Lake-U to target the mainstream notebook PC market for the second half of 2018. Whiskey Lake is likely to be manufactured on some derivative of Intel's 14-nanometer technology (my money's on the company's third-generation 14-nanometer tech, known as 14-nanometer++). 

A wafer of Intel processors with a dime on top of it for scale.

Image source: Intel.

Whiskey Lake-U, like Kaby Lake Refresh, is expected to come in a 4+2 configuration (four processor cores and GT2 graphics). 

So, if Intel is selling 4+2 chips into mainstream notebooks today, and if it is planning to release an updated set of 4+2 chips in just under a year, then why would Intel bother releasing a Cannon Lake-U in a 2+2 configuration? 

How can Intel reasonably try to sell customers on a product that's inferior to what it was previously selling?

Such a product would not be particularly marketable (four cores is easier to sell than two cores), it'd probably deliver lower performance than either Kaby Lake Refresh or Whiskey Lake, and it'd likely be harder and more expensive to manufacture than either of the aforementioned chips. 

There's simply no reason for Cannon Lake-U to ever come to market. 

Cannon Lake-Y makes more sense

Cannon Lake-Y makes more sense to bring to market for the simple reason that it doesn't seem as though Intel is preparing a hypothetical Whiskey Lake-Y. Perhaps Intel thinks that Cannon Lake-Y can deliver better performance and/or power efficiency than a hypothetical Whiskey Lake-Y could, or maybe Intel simply needs some product to build using its 10-nanometer technology. 

If it's the latter -- and I suspect that it is -- then it makes sense to make it Cannon Lake-Y. Y-series chips make up a relatively small part of Intel's processor shipments, so if yield rates on the company's 10-nanometer technology are poor, sales of such chips will have only a minimal impact on the company's profitability.

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