The past few years have not gone as planned for Intel. Difficulties moving to a more advanced manufacturing process slowed down the release of new chips, and have given an opportunity for competitors like AMD to make big strides. At the same time, the rise of low-powered ARM-based chips like the Qualcomm processors in Android phones, or Apple’s new M1-line, have been getting faster and more efficient.
Intel’s new CEO Pat Gelsinger, a veteran of early chip design (including working as architect on the Intel 486 in the 80s) has a plan for how the company can get back on track. In this episode of our explainer show Upscaled, we look at what’s gone wrong at Intel, and what they’re planning to do once again attain the “unquestioned leadership” of the semiconductor world.
Our executive editor Aaron Souppouris went deep into this topic last week, but in summary, Intel will contract with TSMC to have the Taiwanese chip-giant build some of their processors, taking some pressure of a manufacturing line that is still catching up after years of delays. Simultaneously, Intel will invest $20 billion in expanding its manufacturing capacity in Arizona by building a pair of new cutting-edge semiconductor fabs. With this new capacity, Intel will in turn start doing contract manufacturing for other chipmakers, including possibly even licensing out their own x86 IP and designs.
This seems like a sensible decision. The world is currently in the midst of a chip shortage (have you tried to buy a GPU recently?) and there is huge demand for more manufacturing capacity. Plus, as companies like Apple (and maybe even Microsoft) move away from using Intel chips, the fab business means Intel might not lose customers. Even If those companies aren’t buying Intel processors, they’ll still need a manufacturer for their custom chips, and who better than Intel?