Panasonic and Intel have just announced that they will start making its SoC chips using Intel’s 14nm process.
Panasonic is joining Altera , Achronix Semiconductor, Tabula, Netronome and Microsemi on an ever growing list of Intel foundry clients. We expect that the list to expand over time. There have been some rumours that Cisco is planning to make its chips at Intel, too.
Keep the fabs busy
In our recent conversation with a few industry insiders we learned that Intel wants to keep its fabs busy and occupied. This is rather obvious and makes perfect sense as investing in a transition to a new manufacturing node cost a few billion dollars on a good day.
Intel has announced its Core M Broadwell processors that are coming in the latter part of this year and this will be just a fraction of what Intel plans to manufacture in its new 14nm fabs. Intel Airmont, Morganfield as well as Cherryview and Willowview Atoms, all 14nm designs, will also try to keep the fabs busy.
Lower power with 14nm SoC
Panasonic is planning to make 14nm next-generation SoCs that will target audio-visual equipment markets and will enable higher levels of performance, power and viewing experience for consumers.
The 14nm low power process technology with second generation Tri-Gate transistors will help Panasonic to decrease overall power consumption of the device. We expect that these SoCs to be used for future 4K TVs as well as the set-top boxes and possibly upscaling in Blu-ray players.
TSMC will start making 20nm chips later this year and Nvidia might be among the first clients to use it for its upcoming Maxwell 20nm GPUs. Other players will follow as Qualcomm has started making modems in 20nm and will soon move some of its SoC production to this new manufacturing node. Of course, AMD’s 20nm GPUs are in the works, too.
Intel's 14nm is still significantly more power optimised than the 20nm process offered by TSMC and the Global Foundries – Samsung alliance, but Intel is probably not offering its services for pennies either.
Intel is known as a high margin company and we don’t see this changing over night. One of Intel's biggest challenges in 2015 and beyond is to keep the fabs busy at all time. It will try to win more mobile phone business and it is really pushing to win its spot in the wearable technology market as phone market seems oversaturated.
Wearables offer a clean start for Intel, but first steps in any new markets are usually hard. Android Wear ARM based watches that just hit the market will complement or replace wearable wristbands like the Fitbit, based on an ARM Core M3. Intel wants to make shirts with chips inside and the more success it has in bringing cheap SoCs into our lives, the more chips it can sell. Panasonic will just help keep the fabs busy until Intel manages to fill them with its own chips.