back to article Chip fab Intel said to be using better chip fab TSMC to make 5nm Core i3 processors, 20% of its non-CPU parts

Ahead of Intel publishing its latest quarterly financial results on Thursday, let's have a quick reminder of who is actually making chip manufacturer Intel's chips these days. Market analysts at TrendForce claimed this month TSMC will handle the mass production of Intel's 5nm Core i3 processors in the second half of this year …

  1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Single point of failure

    As Intel scrambles to get its mojo back, it makes sense to offshore some of its manufacturing to foundries like TSMC

    What are the alternatives to TSMC? Aren't we running the risk of becoming dependent on a single manufacturer for such key components?

    1. ecarlseen

      Re: Single point of failure

      TSMC is building a leading-edge fab in the U.S. so there will be some geographic diversity if China and Taiwan start fighting. Other than that there’s Samsung. GloFo seems to have dropped out of the bleeding-edge fab race.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Single point of failure

        That only reduces the geopolitical risk. If things continue, we'll have a duopoly at best and a monopoly at worst. Until the Chinese have enough IP for their own fabs… But even so there is potentially a huge risk in price rises. And what if TSMC decided to get into the design business as well?

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Single point of failure

          " Until the Chinese have enough IP for their own fabs…"

          It'll be a long while before China can catch up to even the mid-line photolitho systems of ASML, Canon or Nikon. There's a scary amount of technology working together in a photolitho scanner to the point where they might just be the most complicated machines on earth.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Single point of failure

            We're already in a monopoly with ASML. One outbreak of food poisoning at a Dutch company picnic and we are back to making computers from vacuum tubes

            1. imanidiot Silver badge

              Re: Single point of failure

              ASML is big enough that one comapny picnic is unlikely to slow things down much.

              ASML is also only a monopoly when it comes to EUV systems (NXE and the future high-NA system). For immersion and dry DUV litho there's other options. Afaik the Twinscan platform gives superior throughput and ASML provides very good service support, which is why they are preferred, but they're not the only option for those system.

      2. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Single point of failure

        That's a relatively small fab which will be two process generations out of date when it begins production. If Intel goes all-in on TSMC and phases out its own production then hopefully Intel, Apple and the US government will insist on TSMC building a real full scale fab inside the US. Maybe they can take over one of Intel's newer fabs and equip it to produce wafers using TSMC processes.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Single point of failure

          That assumes the TSMC fab gets anywhere beyond claiming the tax break but never actually building anything <cough > foxcon <cough>

          Of course that they can now bring their foreign fab engineers into the USA to do setup might help.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Single point of failure

      "What are the alternatives to TSMC?"

      For sub-10nm capacity, in 2020, TSMC reportedly have 60% of the instaled capacity globally with Samsung and Intel sitting around 20% each. So that gives the alternatives Intel has.

      Those percentages will change - all 3 have ordered more systems with the lion's share likely having done to Intel as they were behind TSMC in the queue. For other parties, Intel/TSMC may look to offload "first gen" 7nm/10nm equipment but there is unlikely to be supply for any other vendors in the next 5 years.

      Note: these are educated guesses based on various press releases. Getting exact data is hard.

  2. ecarlseen

    TSMC yes. Leading nodes, no.

    That Intel will be using TSMC to fab CPUs is not exactly a secret anymore. But why would they give a rival fab looking for an interim solution wafer starts on their leading nodes when their loyal and long-term customers are willing, able, and eager to fill that capacity? Intel is begging for scraps and that’s what they’ll get.

  3. Dave K

    I recall a lot of scepticism when AMD spun off its fabs into Global Foundries some time back. In hindsight, it has worked well for them. I wonder if Intel will ever consider something similar a few more years down the line...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      The general opinion seems to be that's what they need to HAVE done.

      But now their fab is so far behind the curve that spun-off it wouldn't be viable and certainly couldn't invest enough to get into the 3-5nm business.

      While Intel's high margin chip design business isn't high volume enough for Samsung/TSMC to devote the sort of effort they currently give to their Arm/GPU customers

  4. Binraider Silver badge

    5nm is awfully close to the theoretical limits imposed by quantum tunnelling (according to a 20-year old physics degree - no longer my main subject of interest!) If they can pull this off in mass production it will be remarkable; but I have an inkling suspicion their chip yield might be relatively low because of the obscenely fine tolerances. Hell, it's crazy enough that 7nm is being produced.

    Of course; having literally just upgraded the home PC yesterday for the first time in 5 years (i7-6700K to Ryzen7-3800XT) come back to me in another 5 years time...

    1. Andre Carneiro

      And yet, there is already talk of a 3nm process in the works...

    2. Wade Burchette

      The transistors aren't actually 5nm. This is now just a marketing term. The lower the number, the more advanced the generation.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Basically this. 5nm is what they call a "node" name. It sort of denotes how large a gate would have been had things kept scaling according to Moore's law. In practice gate length hasn't shrunk since the 45nm node (iirc) and the introduction of FinFET gates.

        (interesting read:

        1. Rol

          I had no idea that the foundries had basically taken a relatively well understood physical property and completely reinvented its definition for the sake of marketing. Thanks for the heads up.

          I think I'll jump into my 5,000 horsepower Mini Metro and head down to Intel to complain.

          (The horses used for comparison were measured using a logarithmic scale and stood 10 little children's hands tall)

          1. imanidiot Silver badge

            They've been doing that since the mid 2000s. I thought it was a well known fact by now, but then again I work in the industry and have seen parts of ASML scanners very up close (and possibly too personal).

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      They've been suffering from quantum effects for different generations and have come up with some fairly ingenious solutions such as geometry and different doping. But this is what drives up the costs. If we only had PCs we probably wouldn't be anywhere near 5nm but the several billion smartphones have changed things a bit.

  5. IGotOut Silver badge

    Somewhere, kicking around.

    I have an Intel 486....

    Made by AMD.

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