Intel’s next-generation PC chip, the Raptor Lake, isn’t for sale yet, but it’s mature enough to boot Windows. That’s the word of Intel’s PC chip chief Gregory Bryant at CES 2022 on Tuesday.
“With our next generation of processors, code-named Raptor Lake, on track, already booting Windows, you’ll see performance coming later in 2022,” Bryant said during Intel’s online press conference at the Electronics Show. And can expect even more progress from us in choice.”
It’s no big surprise that Raptor Lake’s prototypes are in the works. But given Intel’s manufacturing problems in recent years, this is an important milestone not to be taken lightly. The company needs to make steady progress to show that PCs are just as important in our digital lives as smartphones and to prove that Intel, not just AMD and Apple, is supplying that innovation.
Intel’s current chip family, the 12th-gen Core product code-named Elder Lake, began shipping in high-end desktops in 2021. At CES, Intel announced that Elder Lake chips are now powering high-end laptops and even more desktops. It combines two types of processing cores, performance and efficiency, to calculate capacity and battery life.
Intel hasn’t revealed the details of the Raptor Lake, but it will continue with Elder Lake’s hybrid design. Rumors suggest that the Raptor Lake may offer more processing cores, at least in high-end configurations as well.
Intel has suffered setbacks due to a major problem upgrading its build years ago. This helped AMD gain market share and opened the door for Apple to release its M series of Mac processors. With the return of Pat Gelsinger, Intel, again led by an engineer, is trying to make up for lost time with rapid processor manufacturing upgrades.
Beyond Raptor Lake, Intel plans to release a successor called Meteor Lake in 2023. It would be a more significant departure, employing both a new manufacturing process called Intel 4, and a package of “chiplets” stacked with Intel technology called Fowros. ,
Intel on Thursday showed off a silicon wafer with chips manufactured with a manufacturing process expected to arrive in 2025, a sign to reassure customers that the company’s chip manufacturing difficulties are behind it.
“We stay on time against or ahead of the deadlines we’ve set,” Chief Executive Pat Gelsinger said of the company’s plan to improve manufacturing processes. He showed off a stunning wafer of memory chips built with the company’s upcoming Intel 18a process, which overhauls the transistors at the heart of chip circuitry and the way they are powered.
Intel is seeking to dramatically accelerate manufacturing progress to meet its 2025 goal of reclaiming chip performance leads lost to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and Samsung. If it succeeds, it would mean that PC chips are on the move after half a decade of faded performance improvements. And it could mean that Intel becomes more relevant to your digital life by making chips inside your car, phone and gaming PC graphics cards.
At the heart of the effort is moving through five new manufacturing processes over four years: Intel 7 in 2021 with Elder Lake chips now powering PCs, Intel 4 in 2022, Intel 3 in 2023, early 2024 Intel 20a and late Intel 18a in 2024 – although the lag between manufacturing availability and product delivery means 18A chips won’t arrive until 2025. Showing the wafer is a “proof point” that Intel is on track, Gelsinger said.
Gelsinger, a chip engineer who returned to Intel a year ago, brings technical credit to the CEO job, but will find it difficult to make his way to the company. Once a chip maker falls behind the leading edge, as IBM and GlobalFoundries have done in recent years, it’s hard to justify the huge investment needed to advance the new technology.
Compounding Intel’s difficulty is Apple’s decision to phase out Intel Core processors from its Macs in favor of its M series chips manufactured by TSMC. At the same time, AMD is gaining market share, Nvidia is profiting from gaming and AI, and Amazon has introduced its own server processors.
Gelsinger spoke at Intel’s Investor Day, where he and other executives tried to convince often skeptical analysts that the company’s new chipmaking equipment would pay off with huge spending. This will come through outbound customers coming in to access premium products and its new foundry manufacturing capacity.
The Intel 20A introduces two major changes to chip design, the RibbonFET and PowerVia, and the Intel 18A refines it for better performance. Ribbonfeet is a transistor technology from Intel called a gate surround gate, in which the gate that controls whether the transistor is on or off is wrapped entirely around ribbon-like channels that carry electric current.