DigiTimes: Intel To Outsource 14nm Chips To TSMC (Updated)

UPDATE 10:45 PT 9/7/2018: Intel responded to our queries with the following nebulous statement (which does not deny outsourcing): “In response to the stronger than expected demand environment, we are continuing to invest in Intel’s 14 nm manufacturing capacity.”

We also spoke with representatives that indicated that Intel continues to use external foundries for some products, but would not elaborate on specific partners or products.

Original Coverage --

DigiTimes is reporting that Intel intends to outsource 14nm chipsets and "several other" 300-series processors, possibly meaning the Coffee Lake chips, to TSMC to aid in production. The news comes as details of Intel's struggles with 14nm chip production surface from multiple sources. The shortages largely stem from the company's delayed 10nm production, which has pushed unexpected demand back to its 14nm manufacturing lines. 

It seems counter-intuitive for Intel to outsource production of its Coffee Lake processors, especially due to design complexity and trade secrets, so we are skeptical. Outsourcing the H310 chipset, which has been plagued by poor availability for months, seems more plausible.

These relatively simple chips would seemingly be easier to port over to TSMCs foundries, albeit on a different node, especially (as DigiTimes notes) given the company's partnership with Intel on other products, such as the SoFIA SoC's and Stratix FPGAs. Currently the 14nm chipsets are clogging Intel's 14nm foundries: in most cases the company has to create one chipset for each processor, so easing that production load would free Intel up to produce more 14nm Coffee Lake processors.

The signs of an impending shortage of Intel's 14nm chips became clear when the company announced during its latest earnings call that "Our biggest challenge in the second half [of 2018] will be meeting additional demand, and we are working intently with our customers and our factories to be prepared so we are not constraining our customers' growth."

But signs of Intel's 14nm struggles had emerged even before the company publicly acknowledged the issues. Intel's 14nm H310 chipsets have been in short supply, or simply unavailable, since May 2018. Several Taiwanese OEMs, including Acer's CEO Jason Chen, stepped forward last week and said that 14nm CPU shortages are already impacting their supply chains.

We followed up last week with pricing and availability analysis and found that many of Intel's non-K SKUs, meaning the cheaper models that generate less margin, are experiencing a sharp rise in pricing. Intel's Core i7-8700K is also popping in and out of stock at major retailers, suggesting that the company is having a hard time meeting demand.

Over the weekend, SemiAccurate unveiled purportedly internal HPE documents that highlight the severity of the shortage. The documents, which pertain to Intel's data center Xeon processors, instruct the company's sales representatives to 'steer demand' from unavailable models to other Xeon products that are available, or to recommend AMD's EPYC processors.

Paul Alcorn
Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech

Paul Alcorn is the Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech for Tom's Hardware US. He also writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage, and enterprise hardware.