At the upcoming Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) Developer Forum in San Francisco, Intel is likely to make a number of interesting announcements around its future chips and accompanying platforms. However, this year investors will get a special treat as Intel will finally take the wraps off of its next-generation 14-nanometer manufacturing technology.
At long last, the cold, hard technical details surrounding transistor performance, gate density, and metal pitch will be unveiled. This will help investors build a much better picture of how Intel's 14-nanometer process stacks up against competing processes from Taiwan Semiconductor (NYSE:TSM) and Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF).
What will Intel reveal?
The last time that Intel did a process disclosure was back at the 2012 Intel Developer Forum in September. Though many had hoped for a reveal of the 14-nanometer technology at some point during 2013, Intel kept its cards pretty close to its vest. The only real details we know are relatively vague performance and density metrics given in a slide at the company's 2013 investor meeting.
Interestingly enough, Intel has repeatedly claimed that its 14-nanometer process should have feature sizes that are very similar to what TSMC and Samsung will be offering at their respective 10-nanometer generations. TSMC has given vague indications of what its10-nanometer process will bring (25% performance improvement over 16-nanometer FinFET+, 2.2 times the density), and Samsung and GLOBALFOUNDRIES disclosed some initial details of their own 10-nanometer process at the VLSI Sympoisum in June.
With these long-awaited disclosures, we'll know exactly where Intel stands on density, power, and performance.
Why is this so important?
Fundamentally, chip designs can only advance so far without improvements to the underlying manufacturing technology. While some will argue that manufacturing technology isn't everything (and they'd be correct), better transistors give you the potential to outrun competition that's using less sophisticated technology.
Now, if it is discovered that Intel's 14-nanometer process is comparable to the competiton's 10-nanometer processes, then this gives investors hope that Intel's 14-nanometer mobile products could be very potent competitors to what its competitors launch at the time. However, this is only half the battle -- Intel still needs to integrate the correct IP blocks, and it still needs to get products out in a timely fashion.
Foolish bottom line
The top semiconductor companies all have a "secret sauce" that gives them a competitive edge. Intel's lies in its vast experience in developing leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing technology and being able to tightly integrate both the manufacturing technology and the design of the chips based on that technology.
Though it takes more than just having the best transistor technology to "win" (and we'll know by September if Intel truly does), it is a competitive advantage that should not be underestimated in the long run.