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What performance boost will Intel's next chips deliver?

Agam Shah | June 3, 2016
The company plans to deliver 10 to 20 percent performance improvements with chips based on the 10-nanometer and 7-nanometer manufacturing processes

Do you want more power-efficiency or CPU horsepower with your next PC chip?

The merits of each have propelled an interesting debate among those who want more performance or longer battery life in their PCs. But raw CPU performance drives the ongoing rivalry between AMD and Intel.

Intel wants to continue to deliver 10 to 20 percent performance improvements with chips based on the upcoming 10-nanometer and 7-nanometer manufacturing processes, company CEO Brian Krzanich said this week.

Some critics may deem those numbers to be incremental, which is why AMD's upcoming Zen PC chip is getting attention. The chip will deliver 40 percent improvement in instructions-per-cycle, a metric related to CPU performance.

Chip makers haven't historically seen the big performance boost coming in Zen, AMD's Chief Technology Officer Mark Papermaster has said. Zen was characterized as a "high-performance" chip by AMD CEO Lisa Su at Computex this week.

But Intel has different goals, with a larger focus on increasing battery life in laptops and keeping PCs affordable. Intel's priority is to make chips smaller while also reducing power consumption and manufacturing costs.

"To me, process leadership is cost-per-transistor and performance-per-watt type of a number, and that's really where we believe we continue to have leadership," Krzanich said at the Bernstein Annual Strategic Decisions conference in New York on Wednesday.

Intel is looking at rolling out new manufacturing technologies ahead of rivals, which will help achieve a balance between manufacturing cost and performance-per-watt. These changes will give Intel a continuing manufacturing advantage over rivals, Krzanich said.

Intel makes its own chips, unlike AMD, which has its chips made by contract manufacturer Globalfoundries. Intel's other competitors include Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC).

"If you also talk ... to competitors, they say there's going to be marginal improvements in performance on 10-nm, they are going to go for 7-nm for performance. We plan to have a consistent performance improvement of 10 percent to 20 percent in each one of these nodes," Krzanich said.

For decades, Intel has used Moore's law as a guiding star to cram more transistors while reducing the size and power consumption of chips. From doubling the transistor count every two years -- which was key in driving CPU performance -- Intel's interpretation of Moore's Law is now related more to the economics of chip making, which has helped advance PC chip technology while keeping prices low.

Intel is now advancing manufacturing technology every three years instead of two years. That's partly because chip-making has become more complex, and it also reduces the frequency of Intel's investment of billions of dollars to build new factories. 

Intel's first 10-nm chips code-named Cannonlake are expected to be released in the second half of 2017.

 

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