Intel said today that a press conference on Wednesday will focus on “its most significant technology announcement of the year.”
The world’s biggest chip maker usually isn’t prone to hyperbole, and it isn’t talking about the details yet. So it will be interesting to watch this closely. New manufacturing technologies from Intel are important because they enable the tech industry to stay on the path of Moore’s Law, which guarantees continuous progress in faster, smaller, and cheaper chips. Observed by Intel chairman emeritus Gordon Moore in 1965, Moore’s Law predicts chip capacity doubles every two years.
Paul Otellini, chief executive of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip maker, foreshadowed the event during his last earnings call. In that call, Otellini said that Intel would reveal in May a new “revolutionary manufacturing technology” that can make chips with circuitry that is just 22 nanometers apart. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. Currently, Intel is manufacturing chips with a 32-nanometer process.
Most major chip makers are able to move in tandem with Intel to new manufacturing technologies. (Well, Intel reminds me that it is usually ahead of its rivals by more than a year; but the point is that these rivals can buy equipment from the likes of Applied Materials, which makes semiconductor manufacturing equipment, just as easily as Intel can).
Each time they do so, however, they have to spend billions of dollars developing the new process and billions of dollars building a new factory. And once in a while, Intel comes up with something that is patented that rivals can’t duplicate. That seems to be the case in this upcoming announcement. Otellini said the new process will likely give Intel an edge over its rivals. If that’s true, Intel could make more advanced chips than any of its rivals. Otellini said the benefits of the new technology will also carry over to the 14-nanometer manufacturing process in a couple of years.