Before 2013, Intel had seen several years of aggressive updates to the Core i-Series. Each spring would bring fresh announcements of "ticks" (die shrinks) or "tocks" (architecture refreshes), which would alternate on a yearly basis. By the summer months, these chips would have found their way into high-end laptop models.
But eyed more carefully, signs of slippage to Intel's breakneck pace have been showing. Sandy Bridge, the second generation of Core i-Series processor launched in Jan. 2011 (Q1 2011) and began shipping almost immediately. Ivy Bridge -- the third generation Core i-Series chips -- were released a bit later, right at the start of Q2 2012 in April 2012. As the release -- a die shrink to 22 nanometers -- brought the tricky-to-manufacture 3D FinFET technology to the table, most wrote off this slippage as natural.
Likewise last year's Haswell, Intel's 22 nm architecture refresh, slid back a few more months to June 2013. Some did notice this time, with rumors mounting that the die shrink to 14 nm -- Broadwell -- might be delayed until 2015. It turned out the reports were somewhat true -- Intel was suffering much higher defect rates than previously expected -- but Intel insisted that Broadwell chips would be delayed only a quarter, to Q1 2014.
But Q1 2014 (Jan. to Mar.) came and went and Broadwell still was a no-show in terms of shipments to OEMs. In an April 2014 earnings call, CEO Brian Krzanich insisted that the wait was almost over, saying that the chips would ship sometime in H2 2014. Most hoped this might mean Q3 2014, in time for the August-September back to school shopping season.
However, while attending the Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif. this past Saturday Mr. Krzanich delivered some disappointing news to Reuters. His comment hints to investors and customers not to get their hopes up of seeing Broadwell product shipping in time for that key sales season.
I can guarantee for holiday, and not at the last second of holiday. Back to school - that's a tight one. Back to school you have to really have it on-shelf in July, August. That's going to be tough.
If the Nov.-Dec. shipping window (perhaps with a September soft launch at the Intel Developer Forum) proves accurate, Intel will have lost nearly a full year in terms of slippage over the past four launch cycles, starting with Sandy Bridge.
This slippage originates from the high defect rates that every chip fab company encounters when moving to smaller nodes. Intel typically tapes out test runs of chips and then must make the difficult decision of what will cost more -- the chips scrapped due to defects for the present process, or the cost of waiting and pushing back the refresh. No matter what Intel chooses a fair amount of chips will be lost to design flaws, the trick is minimizing that number.
Intel is pocketing around $2.5B USD in profit per quarter, so it's not exactly hurting for cash. Still, having narrowly missed on its last two outlooks and struggling to gain ground in the mobile space, there's fear that the world's largest PC chipmaker may see its PC and server market share gobbled up by fresher competitors.
One of Intel's most dangerous rivals is the TSMC. TSMC is expecting to tape out 16 nm FinFET transistor-based chips late this year, possibly in Q4 2014. If all goes well, this 16 nm product could launch as early as the 2015 back-to-school shopping season. If it can pull that off, it may have closed the gap with Intel to about a year, versus the gap of over two years process-wise that existed back in 2011.
Another key rival is Samsung. Having taped out 14 nm transistors in Dec. 2012 in a test run, Samsung has been working to mature the technology at its fabs. Samsung has teamed up with former AMD spinoff, Global Foundries to push the technology into production. According to a report in The EE Times, production is expected to begin in late H2 2014, and product may be available late in the holiday season.