Intel CEO Patrick Gelsinger — a former chip designer who took over from financial specialist Bob Swan in February — announced plans this week to expand Intel’s manufacturing capabilities.
Gelsinger wants to spend $20 billion on two new manufacturing facilities in Arizona. Gelsinger says the expanded capacity will take over production for third-party chip designers in addition to Intel’s own CPUs — similar to the business model of TSMC, the Taiwan-based manufacturer that builds processors for many “fabless” industry giants, including Apple, AMD and Qualcomm.
The move stands in stark contrast to many analysts’ predictions that Intel would divest silicon manufacturing altogether. Intel has struggled to shrink its manufacturing process to over 14nm, adding to its ability to keep up with AMD, which has benefited immensely from TSMC’s successful process shrinkage to 7nm. Since then, TSMC has added volume production for the 5nm process, with further shrinkage to 3nm expected later this year.
Intel’s chips are still in high demand, despite the struggle with process scaling. The global pandemic has caused or exacerbated shortages of electronics across the board, including CPUs and GPUs from all the major players – and greater geodiversity in CPU production is highly attractive to countries far removed from and increasingly wary. for dependence on Asian factories.
Gelsinger says the new manufacturing capability will be offered to Intel and other companies, taking a bite out of TSMC’s market. One such third party is SiFive, the designer of RISC-V CPUs. SiFive CEO Patrick Little announced a partnership with Intel Foundry Services yesterday.
Gelsinger’s new direction for Intel manufacturing appears to include more flexibility and higher capacity. He also announced a plan to license his x86_64 processor designs to third-party companies, who will be able to incorporate them into new chip designs Intel can produce.
Intel hopes to get additional manufacturing incentives on top of the $20 billion initial investment from the Biden administration, and possibly from other governments interested in more CPU manufacturing facilities outside the Asian region.