Research agency TrendForce claims Intel will start outsourcing more products to TSMC. At the moment, Intel already outsources some of its chip production but this is largely limited to low-margin products. The Xe discrete GPUs are the first high-end product Intel isn't making in-house and TrendForce believes this trend will continue. The agency claims Intel will start making Core i3 processors at TSMC's 5nm node in the second half of this year. Mid-range and high-end processors will follow a year later on TSMC's 3nm node, if TrendForce's investigation is correct.
Intel has outsourced the production of about 15-20% of its non-CPU chips, with most of the wafer starts for these products assigned to TSMC and UMC, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. While the company is planning to kick off mass production of Core i3 CPUs at TSMC’s 5nm node in 2H21, Intel’s mid-range and high-end CPUs are projected to enter mass production using TSMC’s 3nm node in 2H22.
In recent years, Intel has experienced some setbacks in the development of 10nm and 7nm processes, which in turn greatly hindered its competitiveness in the market. With regards to smartphone processors, most of which are based on the ARM architecture, Apple and HiSilicon have been able to announce the most advanced mobile AP-SoC ahead of their competitors, thanks to TSMC’s technical breakthroughs in process technology.
With regards to CPUs, AMD, which is also outsourcing its CPU production to TSMC, is progressively threatening Intel’s PC CPU market share. Furthermore, Intel lost CPU orders for the MacBook and Mac Mini, since both of these products are now equipped with Apple Silicon M1 processors, which were announced by Apple last year and manufactured by TSMC. The aforementioned shifts in the smartphone and PC CPU markets led Intel to announce its intention to outsource CPU manufacturing in 2H20.
TrendForce believes that increased outsourcing of its product lines will allow Intel to not only continue its existence as a major IDM, but also maintain in-house production lines for chips with high margins, while more effectively spending CAPEX on advanced R&D. In addition, TSMC offers a diverse range of solutions that Intel can use during product development (e.g., chiplets, CoWoS, InFO, and SoIC). All in all, Intel will be more flexible in its planning and have access to various value-added opportunities by employing TSMC’s production lines. At the same time, Intel now has a chance to be on the same level as AMD with respect to manufacturing CPUs with advanced process technologies.