Intel to start 7-nm chip production this year

Intel has announced its plans to keep up with Moore’s Law by esablishing a 7-nm pilot plant this year to explore the upcoming manufacturing process. The firm said that this was the plan during an earnings call on Thursday. 

Intel has used Moore’s Law as its guiding principle in chip manufacturing for decades, and that has helped PC vendors continuously shrink laptops and mobile devices while simultaneously bulking them up with more power. However, some have argued that it is becoming increasingly difficult to follow as it becomes physically impossible to cram more features on smaller chips. 

Intel’s pilot plant will test and look to solve any problems in the 7-nm chip manufacturing process. Intel did not say when it intends to start shipping 7-nm chips in volume, but we know that it won’t be in the next two to three years.

"The pilot line is about figuring out how to make billions of chips," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. It might have a limited production, but the pilot plant sets Intel up with the ability to invest billions in larger factories to make smaller 7-nm chips. McCarron continued: "Once they have the process locked down, it’s replicated in the other plants."

Intel’s current chips – Kaby Lake – are made using the 14-nanometer process, and the company is now moving to 10-nm with its upcoming Cannonlake chip, which was shown off at CES earlier this month. The 7-nm chips are expected to be the next iteration. 

Cannonlake chips will initially ship in small volumes by the end of the year, with availability expanding next year, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich confirmed during the earnings call.

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