An aggressive ramp of this process is a calculated move by Intel to dominate. They may risk Atom being inefficient versus ARM, but, could be good enough for devices the size of a tablet and bigger or any computing device that needs to get plugged.
With the transition to 22nm process technology that will start later this year Intel Corp. will also move to a new manufacturing model that will rely on four leading-edge fabs instead of three. The plan will cost Intel $9 billion this year, but Intel claims that with 22nm manufacturing process it will be able to enter a number of new markets.
"In support of expected strong unit growth in our core businesses and the movement of graphics transistors to our leading edge process technology, we are forecasting an increase in capital spending to $9 billion as we build and equip an incremental high volume manufacturing factory at 22nm," said Stacy Smith, chief financial officer of Intel, during the most recent quarterly conference call with financial analysts.
At present Intel expects to rapidly transit its PC and server processors as well as various chips for low-power and mobile applications to 22nm fabrication process. Since previously the company transited its Atom and low-cost products to newer nodes around a year after premium chips, but with the 22nm the latest fabrication process will be applied for the whole product stack.
"As we approach our 22nm transition, we are increasing our investments in manufacturing to capture what we believe is a significant opportunity for growth. [...] The market opportunities for our 22nm products are outstanding. As a result, we are growing from the model of three high volume leading-edge manufacturing fabs to four. Our 22nm process will be the foundation for growing PC and server segments, as well as a broad family of Atom-based SoCs, serving smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and other embedded devices," said Paul Otellini, chief executive officer of Intel.
In fact, mobile devices seem to have a very high priority for the world's largest maker of microprocessors.
"We are building some on 32nm now and then the initial products on 22nm will be the mainstream microprocessors, because we want to use every early wafer we can for those products, but we will move as rapidly to 22nm as possible for the non-PC part of the product line," explained the head of Intel.
While it is very likely that Intel will start making commercial chips using 22nm fabrication process already in Q4 2011, the company itself does not want to make any official promises concerning mass production or revenue shipments just now.
"We have finished development of the process. We are in yield learning deployment right now, running test ships in there, ramping the yields up on the technology. We have completed the design of our first microprocessor and have working microprocessors on that technology. At this point in time our plan is to ramp production wafers of that technology in the second half of this year with products launched at some point to follow," said Mr. Otellini.
Among the most anticipated 22nm products from Intel are code-named Ivy Bridge microprocessors for desktops, laptops and servers as well as Knights Corner accelerator based on MIC [many Intel core] architecture. Intel has already confirmed that it does have working samples of 22nm chips.