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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

Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, contested Krzanich's claims of  performance improvements in chips made by rival manufacturers.

As Intel suggests, initial performance numbers from rivals may suggest marginal performance improvements, but as the manufacturing process matures, the performance improvements may get a serious boost, McGregor said.

Something similar happened to Intel, which struggled with its 14-nm process initially. But as the process matured, the company saw performance gains on its chips.

Samsung may be the first Intel competitor to jump to 10-nm. TSMC says it will start making 10-nm chips this year.

But it's also possible that AMD won't be able to replicate the 40 percent instructions-per-cycle improvement in Zen on successor chips. AMD is moving to a 14-nm chip with a 3D transistor structure, which is a radical change from the company's older chips.

The ability to boost performance on the 7-nanometer node will come with advanced manufacturing tools like EUV (extreme ultra violet), which makes it possible to etch finer features on chips using ultraviolet light at a shorter range. The 7-nm process is  considered a major manufacturing upgrade, though EUV has been delayed for years and is still considered a challenge for manufacturers to implement.

Intel has delivered many chip manufacturing breakthroughs over the years. It implemented strained silicon in 2003, high-K/metal gate in 2007, and tri-gate transistors, also known as FinFET or 3D transistors in 2011. It is looking to use exotic materials like gallium nitride -- which is a better conductor -- to supplement silicon on chips.

Krzanich is concerned about developments at competitors but also confident Intel will maintain its manufacturing edge.

"I'm comfortable that at least over the next two nodes we know how to stay ahead," he said.

 

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