Report: Intel Trying to Secure TSMC 3nm Without Riling up Apple
(Image Credit: Peellden, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 )Intel reportedly has a delicate situation on its hands. Although the chip-maker is humming right along with it its next-gen silicon at Fab 42, but there’s a teeny, tiny issue: It needs TSMC’s 3nm process for its Meteor Lake GPUs, but Apple is depending on TSMC’s to deliver all of its upcoming chips, which means all the SoCs for its future iPhone, MacBooks, iPads, and iMacs. That’s a lot of chips, and Intel supposedly sent reps to physically travel to TSMC in Taiwan this month, hat in hand.
The crux of the issue, according to DigiTimes and MacRumors is this: Intel’s not-yet-launched, cutting-edge technology is currently a 7nm process, dubbed Intel 4. It’s what is running at Fab 42, where Intel is already producing early versions of Meteor Lake, which should debut in 2023. This next-gen CPU, which will be Intel’s 14th generation, is the first in the company’s history to feature a chiplet design as opposed to a monolithic die. That design has a compute core, a GPU core, and an SoC core (and possibly a fourth block too), and rumors are that Intel is planning on the GPU portion to be a 3nm part, care of TSMC. The only problem is Apple has already secured TSMC’s 3nm business, so according to Digitimes, during their meeting, Intel will be “striving for more available 3nm process capacity at TSMC” and that “Intel is eyeing a closer tie with TSMC to avoid fighting with Apple for the available process capacity.”
If you’re thinking, “Intel has its own fabs though,” that’s true, but it’s currently at least one generation behind TSMC in terms of moving from node-to-smaller node, as fabs do over time. Its current CPUs, Alder Lake, are built on a 10nm process, named Intel 7. Meanwhile, both Apple and AMD are already using TSMC’s current 5nm process, though AMD has yet to ship product on that node.
Since Intel doesn’t have a functioning 5nm node at this time, and it is reportedly seeking 3nm parts for Meteor Lake, that means it has to go to the only game in town: TSMC. Intel’s follow up to Alder Lake, which is named Raptor Lake, will likely simply be a refresh of the current chips, so they’ll probably be made on the same Intel 7 process.
This move by Intel to curry favor with TSMC raises some interesting questions, namely why would Intel care about upsetting Apple? The most obvious answer is that it wants Apple’s fabrication business, having notably lost it several years ago when the Cupertino outfit began jettisoning Intel’s chips from its products in favor of its own silicon. Intel has stated on the record that going forward, one of its goals is getting not only Apple but other similar companies back in its good graces. To do that though, it’s going to need to really step up its fabrication game, and Intel is aware of that. Intel’s new business unit, Intel Foundry, seeks to offer its silicon fabrication capabilities to 3rd parties such as tech companies and governments. The business unit only recently became functional, however, as it was announced in March of 2021, but in August it revealed it had already snagged a pretty big client: the US Department of Defense.
As we previously reported, Intel is currently ramping up two additional fabs in Arizona — Fab 52 and 62 — at the cost of $20 billion, with plans for third fab that will cost a whopping $100 billion, location unannounced thus far. Along these lines, Intel has stated it wants to be in a position of “unquestioned leadership” by 2025 when it comes to its silicon wafer fabrication.