Intel changes its manufacturing language as it moves to angstroms
PCWorld|September 2021
Intel claims that by 2025 it will return to “manufacturing leadership.”
MARK HACHMAN

Intel recently stated that it is completely changing the way in which generations of its microprocessors have been defined, discussed, and evaluated, paving the way for chips to be measured in angstroms, not nanometers.

Specifically, Intel is rewriting the terminology associated with its process technology, it said at an “Intel Accelerated” presentation. Going forward, Intel’s 10nm “enhanced SuperFIN” technology will now be called “Intel 7,” mentally placing it on the same tier as the same 7nm process technology AMD uses for its Ryzen chips. Intel began signaling this shift in March (go. pcworld.com/sgnl), but now it’s official.

It’s a branding exercise, but with technical reasons behind it. For years, one way in which chip giants like Intel and AMD have defined the evolution of their products has been through process nodes or process generations: first in terms of microns, then nanometers, such as the 14nm process Intel has struggled to move past. But what defines a 7nm process has become increasingly abstract, to the point at which some, like Intel, would argue that the term has become essentially meaningless. Instead, Intel will distinguish process nodes by a new metric: performance per watt.

Intel’s announcement includes three important components. For one, Intel is simply abandoning the traditional way of defining new process nodes, changing the way in which you’ll talk about its products. Second, the announcement charts the end of the nanometer era, and looks forward to defining chips based on angstroms. Finally, Intel has made a bold claim that it will regain what it calls “manufacturing leadership” by 2025.

THE NEW LANGUAGE OF INTEL’S CHIP MANUFACTURING

Intel’s manufacturing technologies will now be known as Intel 7, Intel 4, Intel 3, and then—moving on—Intel 20A. They will be primarily defined by how much they improve in performance per watt over the prior generation. An Intel representative added that they will also be defined with an “area improvement as a key technical parameter,” but said that the company wouldn’t be providing those numbers.

Traditionally, what we call the “process node” or “process technology” was just the length of the individual transistor gate, the fundamental building block of integrated circuits. As semiconductor manufacturing improved, the sizes of the individual gates shrank. That enabled Moore’s Law: the axiom that the number of transistors in a fixed area on a chip doubles every 18 to 24 months. But as ExtremeTech noted in a 2019 story (go.pcworld.com/xt19), the last time that the gate length matched the process node was way back in 1997. Instead, over time, chipmakers began essentially replacing actual gate lengths with equivalents, as the ways to compare manufacturing processes became increasingly complex, involving SRAM cell sizes, fin width, minimum metal pitch, and more. None of these factors, however, is ever used in general conversation.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM PCWORLDView All

DOES YOUR LAPTOP FEEL SLUGGISH? - TRY THESE 9 THINGS BEFORE YOU GIVE UP

DON’T DITCH THAT AGING LAPTOP UNTIL YOU TRY THESE SPEED-BOOSTING TRICKS FIRST.

7 mins read
PCWorld
October 2021

Dell XPS 17: The ultimate content creation laptop

With a giant screen and thin profile, the Dell XPS 17 is perfectly built for content creators on the go.

10+ mins read
PCWorld
October 2021

Mullvad VPN: Our favorite ultra-private VPN gets even better

Mullvad adds a few useful extras, as well as a big expansion of its network of servers.

7 mins read
PCWorld
October 2021

How Windows 11 will speed up your slow PC

If your PC feels faster, is it faster? That’s Windows 11’s aim with some smart under-the-hood tweaks.

3 mins read
PCWorld
October 2021

How to secure your home Wi-Fi network and router

Make sure what happens on your network stays private on your network.

9 mins read
PCWorld
October 2021

WHAT IS DDR5? THE PC'S NEXT–GEN MEMORY, EXPLAINED

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE PC’S NEXT RAM STANDARD.

6 mins read
PCWorld
October 2021

Unpatched Office attack reminds us: Don't click on risky docs

An attacker will have to convince you to click on the document as well as turn off Protected View.

2 mins read
PCWorld
October 2021

Gateway 15.6-inch Ultra Slim Notebook: Big screen on a budget

Getting a 15.6-inch display at this price is nice, but there are trade-offs.

7 mins read
PCWorld
October 2021

GameSir GK300: Wireless mechanical keyboard goodness, just not for gaming

A removable wrist rest, backlighting, and a full-size layout help this wireless mechanical keyboard stand out.

3 mins read
PCWorld
October 2021

Windows 11 to launch on October 5

The start of an exciting fall for PC users.

2 mins read
PCWorld
October 2021
RELATED STORIES

AMD Ryzen 7 5700G

APUs make a more than welcome return

3 mins read
Maximum PC
November 2021

OWC THUNDERBOLT HUB: FINALLY A SIMPLE WAY TO ADD MORE THUNDERBOLT PORTS TO A MACBOOK

Thunderbolt 3 was an amazing improvement in simplicity, despite the confusion that came with it and the transition from USB 3.0 over USB Type A, Thunderbolt 2, Mini DisplayPort and the like.

4 mins read
Macworld
October 2021

HP Laptop 14-dq2020nr: A Limited Budget Laptop

You probably know that HP’s Pavilion brand is for consumer PCs priced and positioned below its upscale Envy and Spectre lines. But Pavilion is only the second-lowest rung on HP’s notebook-PC ladder. Its budget laptops have no brand at all, just a generic family name: “HP Laptop.”

7 mins read
PC Magazine
September 2021

THE MACHINE LEARNING REVOLUTION

According to the hype, artificial intelligence will soon be capable of anything. Jeremy Laird examines the true nature of machine learning

10+ mins read
Maximum PC
September 2021

THE MINI MAESTRO PC

When it’s not about gaming, what can you get on a budget?

6 mins read
Maximum PC
September 2021

MSI Pulse GL66 11UDK

Entry-level ray tracing on a budget

4 mins read
Maximum PC
September 2021

Alienware M15 R5

Close encounters of the Ryzen kind

3 mins read
Maximum PC
September 2021

How to start up your M1 Mac from an external drive

It’s not as easy as it used to be, as it likely requires that you purchase new hardware.

4 mins read
Macworld
September 2021

WILL THE BATTLE FOR CPU SUPREMACY PUSH THE RIVALS TOGETHER?

For years, neither company has been able to claim absolute victory. But as Amazon, Apple, Google, and other tech giants design and manufacture their own processors, will AMD and Intel circle their wagons?

10+ mins read
PC Magazine
August 2021

Ask: Tech Support & Techsplanations

Like any new technology, we have much to learn about the working life of SSDs in M1 Macs. Alarming reports of rapid wear must be tempered against use. Take any low–end Intel Mac with limited memory and work it hard with high use of virtual memory, and its SSD wears out faster. Unlike rotating hard disks, which can keep spinning for a decade or more if you’re lucky, the more your Mac writes to an SSD, the shorter its life.

10+ mins read
Mac Life
July 2021