As noted in a prior article, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) has been quiet about its 10-nanometer product launch timing. If Intel were to stick to its normal tick-tock cadence, whereby the company introduces products built on a new manufacturing technology every two years, then one might reasonably expect the first 10-nanometer products to go into production during the second quarter of 2016 with first products arriving in the holiday 2016 timeframe.
Interestingly enough, publication Gulf News conducted an interview with Taha Khalifa, the general manager of Intel's Middle East and North Africa region. In the interview, Khalifa claimed that Intel's first 10-nanometer processors -- codenamed Cannonlake -- will be launched in "early 2017."
What does the timeline look like, then?
If Intel is planning an early 2017 launch for Cannonlake, then this would imply that high-volume production begins roughly in the second quarter of 2016. This would represent a push-out of about two quarters from when Intel had originally signaled that it hoped to go into production on 10-nanometer manufacturing technology.
In the context of Intel's 14-nanometer schedule, this makes sense. The company had planned to move into high volume production on 14-nanometer products in the first quarter of 2014 when it first gave its 2015 schedule. However, yield challenges pushed that out to the second quarter of 2014. It stands to reason, then, that the 10-nanometer schedule would be pushed out a bit as well.
This makes sense in the context of Intel's Skylake launch schedule
As readers may be aware, Intel recently launched its first set of 14-nanometer products known as Broadwell-Y in late 2014, then more aggressively rolled out 14-nanometer low-power notebook parts in January 2015. The company expects to release higher-performance/power Broadwell-U chips (28-watt parts) by the end of the first quarter of 2015, and quad-core parts for high-performance mobile by "mid-2015."
Intel has also stated its intent to ramp up its next-generation 14-nanometer microarchitecture known as Skylake in the second half of 2015, with both desktop and notebook parts appearing for a "complete holiday kind of situation." If the statement from Khalifa is true and the 10-nanometer parts don't arrive until "early 2017," then this means that Skylake will be Intel's key PC product family for 2016.
That said, this timeline may be conservative
It's by no means the end of the world if Intel doesn't get Cannonlake out until early 2017; Skylake should be a best-in-class product built on what I believe to be best-in-class manufacturing technology. That being said, I do think that Intel is aiming to get 10-nanometer products out for holiday 2016, or about a year after Skylake launches.
After all, as CFO Stacy Smith pointed out on the last earnings call: "And just generally, the faster [Intel] bring[s] out new features and cool stuff to the market, the better off [Intel] [is]."
Indeed, with new chips, Intel brings new capabilities in terms of general purpose performance, graphics, media encoding/decoding, and other features to compel customers to buy new PCs. Additionally, I believe that Intel's strong market share position and margins are very much due to product superiority. Moving to new manufacturing technologies as quickly as feasible allows Intel to maintain/extend that product lead over PC processor rival Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD).