While some seem to believe that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) may lose its manufacturing technology lead to the likes of Taiwan Semiconductor (NYSE:TSM) and Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF), reality is likely to be rather different. In fact, at an upcoming developer conference, Intel could show evidence that its lead is quite intact.
Intel launching first 14-nanometer products, demonstrating 10-nanometer?
According to Digitimes, Intel will be launching its first 14-nanometer Broadwell products under the Core M brand at the 2014 Intel Developer Forum in September. As a quick reminder, Core M is a family of products intended for fanless clamshells and detachable/convertible 2-in-1 designs. The rest of the designs -- aimed at higher power and performance notebooks -- will roll out over the course of 2015.
More interestingly, though, is that Digitimes reports that Intel will demonstrate 10-nanometer wafers at the same time. We've known that Intel's chip teams have been designing on 10-nanometer for quite some time, so it wouldn't be farfetched for Intel to demonstrate a wafer of test chips.
Why would Intel do this?
Right now, there's some concern that Taiwan Semiconductor and Samsung will be able to "accelerate" the development of their next generation manufacturing technologies to "overtake" Intel. While roadmaps and plans are fine and dandy, the reality of the situation is that the move to 20-nanometer, which still doesn't utilize the FinFET transistors that Intel utilized at 22-nanometer, has yet to really begin in earnest, so it's tough to believe some of the claims from the foundries.
In particular, the claim from TSMC is that 16 FinFET comes in 2015, and then 10 nanometer comes in 2016. Given that Intel -- which has had a manufacturing lead for years -- went through a lot of pain in moving to 14-nanometer, it's just really hard to believe that 16 FinFET and 10 nanometer will be cakewalks for either TSMC or Samsung.
At any rate, if Intel does demonstrate such a wafer, it would likely be to reassure investors that it does have a technology lead over the rest of the industry -- because seeing a wafer in real life is much more convincing than a roadmap that is subject to change.
Foolish bottom line
Though there are a lot of conflicting views here, I'm of the belief that Intel's manufacturing lead remains intact. Intel has traditionally invested more in semiconductor manufacturing technology than any other company, and it has a very strong track record of delivering high quality, economically viable processes into high-volume production well before its competitors do. That's not a track record I'd want to bet against in the long run.