Intel will change its approach to PC chip upgrades

Intel believes PC users won't care about the manufacturing process, just the performance of the chips

Intel is changing its view on how it upgrades chips.

Rather than tying chip upgrades directly to the manufacturing process involved, Intel will look at delivering a sustained set of performance upgrades with each new chip architecture.

"We're going to be focused more on the generation by the amount of performance increment it will give us," said Venkata Renduchintala, president of Intel's Client and Internet of Things businesses and its Systems Architecture Group. "I don't think generations will be tagged to node transitions."

The performance benefits will matter more, and the process technology that lives underneath is going to be less conspicuous, Renduchintala said.

"We can translate that into more predictable cadence of product, which delivers meaningful performance to stimulate PC upgrades," Renduchintala said.

In the meanwhile, Intel will speed up its modem development so it can transition to 5G quickly. Intel is looking to grow in the communications market, while giving a lower priority to PCs, a market that has flattened. The company was showing off its new modems at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. 

Intel used to deliver two generations of PC chips with each manufacturing process node, but that changed with its recent 14-nanometer process.

Intel has made three generations of chips including Broadwell, Skylake, and Kaby Lake, on the 14-nanometer process. The company recently revealed that the 8th Generation Core processors will also be made on the 14-nm node. The announcement came as a surprise because Intel's next-generation 10-nm process is ready.

Intel has made more generations of chips using the 14-nm process as it has been able to squeeze more performance through incremental design upgrades and tweaks to its existing manufacturing process.

But Intel will also deliver PC chips code-named Cannonlake -- its first on the 10-nm process -- later this year.  A big question was whether the 8th Generation Core processors would also include Cannonlake chips.

Not for now, but that could change. The company hasn't yet decided how it'll brand or market the Cannonlake chips due later this year.

"If Cannonlake comes out at the end of the year, it'll be interesting what we actually market it as. We haven't decided it yet," Renduchintala said.

Intel has said its 8th Generation Core processors made on the 14-nm process will deliver a performance update of more than 15 percent compared to the current Kaby Lake chips.

The parallel shipments of 10-nm and 14-nm chips could create a branding dilemma, and Intel may have to launch 9th Generation Core chips alongside the 8th Generation chips.

With Intel's new approach to chip design, it's hard to predict how many generations of chips will be made on the 10-nm process. A rough estimate is three to four chip architectures before Intel moves to the 7-nm process.

Right now, PC chips are the first to get upgraded based on new architectures, but that will change in the coming years with server processors getting the first shot at upgrades.

Intel is moving to a model where users can expect "a yearly cadence of platform upgrade that actually gives meaningful performance improvements from the generation that preceded it," Renduchintala said.

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