Update 10/14/2019 8:00 PT: Intel confirmed to Tom's Hardware that its use of the "Desktop Products" in its statement means "Desktop CPUs," specifically. It's noteworthy that the statement could equate to NUC processors only, and numerous other possibilities abound (like 10nm CPUs for the HEDT market only), but Intel hasn't provided further clarity.
In what seemed like important news for desktop enthusiasts, a rumor came out today that Intel had canceled all plans for 10nm desktop processors, leaving a void until the company would introduce 7nm desktop processors in 2022. However, Intel has now officially denied the rumor, stating that it still has plans to bring chips with the 10nm process to the desktop.
The rumor was published on Monday by German site HardwareLUXX. The site reported that it had received information from “insider circles” with a reportedly proven track record. The source claimed that there would be no 10nm desktop CPUs from Intel – possibly because the 10nm process does not deliver the required frequency for a desktop part. Instead, the company would supposedly focus on 7nm for the desktop market. The source said the first 7nm desktop processors would come in 2022.
That suggests that after seven years of 14nm products on the desktop based on the Skylake architecture, Intel in one generation would move the desktop two nodes down, on what could be the fourth architecture the company has introduced after Skylake.
On first sight, the rumor appeared to have some merit. Ice Lake-U does have lower clock speeds than the 14nm parts like Whiskey Lake-U and Comet Lake-U. That would be especially detrimental to single-threaded performance on the desktop, although frequencies might still increase as Intel moves to 10nm++. Moreover, a roadmap leaked earlier this year revealed that Intel had indeed planned another 14nm generation on the desktop with Rocket Lake-S, after the upcoming Comet Lake-S processors with 10 cores.
On the other hand, the rumor went against a previous statement by Intel’s executive management. When asked at last year’s Architecture Day if Intel had plans to ever release a high-end desktop CPU on 10nm, chief architect Raja Koduri simply answered "Yes." So if Intel did have plans for such a product, today’s rumor would indicate that Intel had scrapped those plans.
Intel provided the following short statement in response to Tom's Hardware, refuting the rumor:
"We continue to make great progress on 10nm, and our current roadmap of 10nm products includes desktop."
If Intel still has plans for 10nm desktop processors, they will likely succeed Rocket Lake-S, perhaps in late 2021. Now, it is likely the chips will be based on Alder Lake and its Golden Cove architecture, instead of the forthcoming Tiger Lake with Willow Cove.
The 10nm++ process might help overcome some of the frequency issues, and provide a steep IPC (instructions per clock) bump from three generations worth of architecture improvements.
The only issue that remains is 10nm's sketchy maturity, as it might never reach the high yields that Intel is accustomed to with its other process nodes. However, competitive pressure might be a reason for it to soldier on, and at least in the data center, the company's Eagle Stream platform will not feature a 14nm counterpart like we see with Cooper Lake-SP in 2020 alongside Ice Lake-SP.
That indicates Intel could be expecting 10nm to reach sufficient maturity in 2021 to accommodate a bigger ramp up in manufacturing.