New rumors are running that Intel may seek Samsung's assistance at 14 nm, although there are also reasons to doubt it. If this is true, it suggests that Santa Clara will remain stuck at 14 nm for a significant amount of time for at least a few games, notwithstanding recent discussions on Ice Lake.
according to SE daily (via Google Translate), Intel and Samsung are in the final stages of trading for additional capacity. Intel would have chosen to work with Samsung rather than TSMC because of concerns regarding the improved competitive performance of Huawei and AMD. TSMC stated that it thought it could continue to manufacture chips for Huawei, and that it allegedly prompted Intel to prefer Samsung as a partner, due to the possibility that new business decisions regarding retaliation would be taken against companies that do business with Huawei.
I do not want to go so far as to say that it's wrong, but the chronology seems extremely compressed. Negotiations on smelting capacity between two large companies will not be negotiated in a weekend, and the US government total blockade Huawei is still quite new. In addition, taking action against TSMC for believing that it could continue to manufacture systems on a chip for Huawei would, in some respects, be excessive. Huawei is facing enormous problems in bringing its products to market for reasons that have nothing to do with its ability to supply SoC. Even with perfect support for the smelter, its manufacturing supply chain is threatened in an existential way, not to mention its access to software and support tools.
The idea that Intel would choose to use a smelter other than its main competitor, AMD, possible Intel could be sensitive to the idea that it was passed, hat in hand, to the same company that supplies its competitors. The partnership with Samsung – whose 14nm node is generally in excellent condition and has been used for AMD hardware at GlobalFoundries after GF fired it many years ago – is a little less direct.
The biggest reason to look down on this rumor is that it suggests that Intel would launch at 14 nm the competitor "Rocket Lake" on silicon Samsung. In the past, Intel had signed agreements with TSMC for the production of Atom processors or chipsets (as is often said). Building "big hearts" in a rival foundry would be a major change. That's one of the reasons I do not want to weigh heavily in this rumor, but there's a way to make sense of this rumor.
One of the difficulties associated with setting up a new process in an existing plant is the disruption of ongoing production. If you want to replace a capacity of 14 nm by 7 nm, you may have to disable the lines to perform the upgrades. To do this, Intel has always operated its production lines in tight rates, but we know that the demand for 14 nm has been extremely high. Just last year, Intel announced the allocation of additional funds to boost production of 14 nm. At the same time, the long 10-nm delay has plagued Intel's installations. The company expects a relatively fast switchover to 7nm (production being scheduled by 2021), which means that it needs a fairly fast volume rollout at a time when demand for 14 nm can already be very busy.
If this rumor is true, it may be true to the extent that Intel has reached an agreement with Samsung to operate certain products from its own factories while aggressively upgrading its own factories. The company undoubtedly wants to restore the story of the supremacy of the process that it had 20 years before its 10 nm slide and it might prefer to run at 7 nm by taking advantage of the production of a competitor rather than conducting it alone.
The Daily SE suggests another reason why Intel and Samsung could conclude this type of agreement: prices. From the story:
The Samsung smelter recently announced that it had submitted to TSMC an unexpected unit price of 60% for some companies. Samsung has offered TSMC a complete set of less expensive masks than the "multi-layer mask" (MLM) set up to reduce low-volume production costs. A mask is a kind of film used to draw a circuit on a wafer.
While the dramatic cost reductions we've heard about were 7nm, it's quite possible that Samsung and Intel will also reach a 14nm agreement. Samsung Foundry will probably be hungry for customers and build for Intel would be a prestigious victory. Intel (again, assuming this rumor is accurate) would obviously want a good deal for the products and could find Samsung more acceptable than TSMC – or simply worry about more prosaic issues regarding parts availability.
At the present time, Intel has given limited windows to its 10-nm and 7-nm roadmaps. The company said that 10nm ++ and 7nm would overlap in 2021 and that it would result in a 7nm GPU. Deliveries of Ice Lake in notebooks are expected to begin in June, and volume shipments by the end of the year. No timeline has been provided for office rooms and roadmaps that have leaked (which may not be accurate) indicate that 14 nm hang on the desk until 2020. With the launch of 7 nm by AMD in a few weeks, the hike risks Intel.
Updated (18/06/2019): There is reason to believe that if such an agreement is concluded – and nothing has yet been publicly announced – it could be the same type of contiguity products that Intel has sometimes put to the point with partners before. This type of allocation is the kind of maneuver we expect from Intel while trying to maximize the in-house manufacturing of the highest margin parts with limited foundry space.