Intel looks to beat ARM on power consumption beyond 20 nm
Speaking to the firm’s executive vice president and head of architecture David (Dadi) Perlmutter recently, EE Times learned that Intel is pushing ahead with its sub 20-nm and 14-nm plans, while the ARM ecosystem struggles to find a business model beyond 22 nm.
Intel is biding its time. The semi giant appears quite prepared to wait a couple of generations until sub 20-nm nodes are breached before bringing the battle of low power processing to ARM and its mobile partners.
Indeed, Intel claims to have line of sight all the way to a 7-nm process, with all the firm’s CPUs becoming SoCs as of next year. Haswell will be Intel’s 22-nm SoC for tablets and Ultrabooks, while Merrifield will be the company’s SoC for tablets and smartphones.
After that, 14 nm is expected to be Intel’s killer node with the most dramatic power improvements and integrated baseband–although the firm has yet to officially announce it.
Meanwhile, the ARM ecosystem has a rather more challenging road ahead of it, with low cost continuing to present a challenge for foundry supply, yield and materials science. ARM is seeing Moore’s Law slowing down due to a lack of foundry spending and a deficit in R&D capabilities.
Even at the 28-nm, the ARM ecosystem is feeling the squeeze. Until very recently only one foundry (TSMC) could yield 28-nm chips, with Globalfoundries just starting to produce 28-nm in volume, and the entire industry is under-supplied.
With Intel pushing ahead to introduce FinFETs at the 22-nm and hoping to use EUV lithography at 14 nm and below, ARM faces an even bigger crisis of competition.
Meanwhile, Intel’s design teams work hand in hand with the the company’s fabs, in one unified effort. “We always work very closely with the fab,” said Perlmutter. “Each time we put a new big challenge in front of the giant team,” he said, adding that every time the focus centered on new and different aspects of the technology.
“If you develop technology, every day you bounce into a problem which may seem to be a showstopper,” he explained, discussing the various challenges the teams had overcome hitting the targets for Haswell’s design.
“What looked to be hugely complicated 10 years ago looks like a piece of cake now. We have to overcome new things every time around, so we have an ‘aha’ moment every day, every minute in every single Intel product,” he said.
It’s not just the technology Intel strives to better with every generation, but also its human taskforce.
“[The engineers] had better be better these days, way better than when I was an engineer,” said Permutter, adding that today’s engineers came at things “with a different mindset.” This, he said, meant the new generation was used to products with much broader market capabilities. “In some ways that helps a lot, in other ways it makes it harder,” he said.
Despite the seeming solidity of Intel’s roadmap, however, Perlmutter is well aware that the road ahead may not be entirely bump free.
“I always worry. I was worried when we moved to 1 micron. I was worried when we went below 100. I’m worried about going below 10. But my colleagues running the technology side tell me they are worried, too, and the moment they are worried, I’m no longer worried, because they do their job,” he said.
Having said that, ARM and its partners might do well to worry a bit more about Intel’s progress, with the firm’s 14-nm node already in “extremely advanced stages of design.”
Perlmutter said his firm is holding firm to its schedule of putting its first products on 14 nm in production later next year .
“We will launch many products on 14nm. Our plans are advancing and we believe that we will grow the gap and it will give us more advantage,” said Perlmutter.
“Experience is enabled by performance. The better performance you have the better you are. It’s all about performance,” he said, adding “high performance computing in a small form factor.”