Intel has a new architecture roadmap and a plan to retake its chipmaking crown in 2025

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Intel is rethinking how it releases — and brands — its semiconductor innovations, CEO Pat Gelsinger announced today at the company’s Intel Accelerated webcast. The announcement includes the broad strokes of the next half-decade of Intel’s processor roadmap, new chip and packaging technologies, and a promise of an “annual cadence of innovation,” with the ultimate goal of seeing Intel retake its leadership in the processor space by 2025. [...]
Here’s a look at Intel’s new roadmap and what it all actually means.

• Intel 7 is the new name for what would have been Intel’s third-generation 10nm technology and the successor to Intel’s 10nm SuperFin (aka Intel’s second-generation 10nm chips, found most notably in its 11th Gen Tiger Lake chips). Intel says that the new Intel 7 hardware will offer approximately 10 percent to 15 percent improvements in performance-per-watt compared to the previous generation — or, as is always the case, improved power efficiency and battery life should hardware manufacturers prefer to keep performance the same.

The first Intel 7-based products will show up as early as this year, with the already previewed Alder Lake chips coming at the end of 2021 for consumer products, and the upcoming Sapphire Rapids chips in 2022 for data centers.

Intel 4 is the architecture formally known as Intel’s 7nm process, which Intel infamously was forced to delay out to 2023 last summer following manufacturing issues. Originally planned for 2021, it’s the next major jump in technology for Intel, using EUV (extreme ultraviolet) technology — something already utilized by Samsung and TSMC’s 5nm node products, for comparison. It’ll still use the same broad FinFET transistor architecture that Intel’s been using since 2011. Thanks to all those improvements, Intel 4 is expected to feature a transistor density of about 200-250 million transistors per mm², compared to about 171.30 million transistors per mm² on TSMC’s current 5nm node.

Intel says that Intel 4 will offer an approximately 20 percent jump in performance-per-watt while cutting down on overall area. Production is set for the second half of 2022, with the first Intel 4 products planned for 2023 (Meteor Lake for consumer products, and Granite Rapids for data center).

Intel 3, set for manufacturing in the second half of 2023, is the new name for what would have been a second-generation 7nm product under Intel’s previous naming scheme. Like Intel 4, it’s still a FinFET product, although Intel says it’ll offer additional optimizations and use of EUV for roughly an 18 percent increase in performance-per-watt compared to Intel 4. No release date or product names for Intel 3 chips have been announced yet, but presumably, they won’t be available until 2024.
  • Intel 20A is the name for the next generation of Intel technologies that, under the old scheme, would have been the architecture following the formerly branded 7nm node. It’s also the most substantial announcement that Intel made today, technologically speaking, one that will see Intel debut its first new transistor architecture since FinFET in 2011, called “RibbonFET.” The new architecture will mark Intel’s first gate-all-around transistor, a fundamentally new transistor technology for the company that promises greater transistor density and smaller sizes. Additionally, 20A will see the introduction of “PowerVia,” a new technology that allows for wafers to be powered from the back of the chip, instead of requiring power to be rounded to the front.
The “20A” in the title is meant to evoke the “Ångstrom era” of semiconductor design — an Ångstrom being a unit of measurement smaller than nanometer. (20Å = 2nm, although, like the other rebranded Intel names above, Intel 20A doesn’t refer to a specific measurement on the products themselves.)

Intel’s 20A isn’t expected to ramp until 2024, and, like Intel 3, it doesn’t have any formally announced release date or products yet.
  • Intel 18A is the farthest in the future piece of Intel’s roadmap and will feature the second generation of Intel’s RibbotFET technology for “another major jump in transistor performance.” Intel says that Intel 18A is in development for “early 2025,” and that it expects this generation of technology to re-establish its semiconductor leadership.
 
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