The pre-Computex silly season of rumour and innuendo is off to a good start this week as alleged Intel Client CPU roadmaps have been leaked, throwing up Intel's 10nm process woes into stark relief. If confirmed, it would mean that mainstream desktop and server CPUs would remain on the 14nm manufacturing process until at least 2021, underscoring a loss of technology leadership enjoyed for decades. During the same period competitors are expected to be ramping up production on 5nm, directly impact Chipzilla's CPU market dominance unless they right their ship soon.
Intel officially launched the first round of CPUs manufactured with their cutting-edge 10nm process in the middle of 2018, a move that was strongly believed to be a stopgap measure to appease investors rather than a ramp to mass production. Only one model - the 'Cannon Lake' Core i3 8121U - has been released thus far and is only present in limited numbers of notebooks and low power NUCs. Production of 10nm CPUs was expected to ramp up in the latter half of 2018, but thus far refreshed 14nm products based on the Coffee Lake microarchitecture (itself a derivative of Skylake) have taken centre stage in Intel's portfolio.
Now unconfirmed leaked roadmap slides published by Tweakers.net spell out in stark detail just how far behind Intel are with 10nm development, and where they could be by 2021. However this roadmap should be taken with more than a mere pinch of salt, especially as those reading it could be prone to confirmation biases. Intel's difficultly developing their 10nm process is well known and a common talking point in the industry, and these slides feed into that.
The first slide shows Intel's Desktop Client Roadmap 2018-2021, detailing low-power Y-Series CPUs and S-series consumer desktop chips up to entrypoint Xeon SKUs. The first mention of CPUs manufactured using a 10nm process is Tiger Lake in the U-Series (15-28W BGA package) and Y-Series (<5W BGA package) tentatively scheduled for Q2CY2021 (i.e. Q2 of calendar year 2021). Even these are labelled TBD, as if to say that their introduction could be pushed back further.
More worrying perhaps is that mainstream consumer desktop CPUs, known as Intel's S-series, are not listed as transitioning to 14nm before 2022. Comet Lake will be Coffee Lake's successor on 14nm in the first half of 2020, while in 2021 a previously unknown 14nm CPU family referred to as 'Rocket Lake' will be released. Rocket Lake for the low-power market is also expected to incorporate new Intel GPU designs, potentially as an offshoot of their discrete GPU development.
One clear discrepancy in the information presented should be raised at this point. The H/G series transition from Coffee Lake (4/6/8 Cores) to Rocket Lake (4/6 Cores) indicates that Intel would be removing two cores in their generational progression. That seems unlikely, unless they plan to offer up-to 6-Core Rocket Lake /w premium Intel discrete GFX alongside 8-core Coffee Lake products.
Intel's Mobile Client Roadmap for 2019-2020 tells a slightly different story. Ice Lake Y and U chips are expected to be introduced in the second quarter of 2019 (i.e in the coming months), albeit in limited quantities. That tallies with statements made by Intel and Dell at CES 2019, where the first 10nm Ice Lake CPU was demonstrated in the form of a pre-production Dell XPS laptop prototype. It was stated at the event by representatives from both Intel and Dell that products with 10nm CPUs are expected to launch in the latter half of this year, and Ice Lake rather than the surely now defunct Cannon Lake would be the order of the day.
Once again however discrepancies have emerged from this slide. No mention is made of Cannon Lake at all, a CPU range that (while scarce) does actually exist in laptops today in the form of the Core i3 8121U. It also schedules a 'Rocket Lake' CPU range for the U-series based on a combination of 14nm CPU and '10nm GFX' for Q3 2020, an aspiration that may be optimistic if 10nm hasn't even made it to desktop by that point.
Taken at face value this indicates that still more challenging times are ahead for Intel, and 14nm CPU production capacity will remain strained for the foreseeable future. By the same token it's great news for TSMC and especially AMD, who will surely claw back market share with Zen 2 and could deal a decisive blow with Zen3 on 5nm in 2021/22.
But once again, this is firmly filed under rumour. Only partial confirmation will be made if/when Intel announce Rocket Lake as an upcoming microarchitecture.