How Intel Lost $10 Billion – and the Mobile Market

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Update (6/1/2020): We have republished the tale under as a dialogue of how Intel’s mobile attempts eaten so substantially of the company’s awareness, however in the end came to naught. In the many years given that this tale was revealed in 2016, Intel attempted to build a competitive 5G modem that would put it on the slicing edge of the new market place. Sad to say, that exertion in the end unsuccessful and Intel marketed its 5G modem business enterprise to Apple. Atom has ongoing to establish as a lower electricity mobile option for entry-degree Windows systems and Chromebooks.

The observations on foundry models are additional salient now than they had been in 2016. Back again then, Intel’s 10nm was only a very little late and the company was still thought of to be on the slicing edge of semiconductor tech. TSMC currently occupies that placement, nevertheless Intel desires to reclaim its crown by 5nm. Back again in 2016, we at times heard analysts opine that Intel must offer its fabs and embrace the fabless design thanks to the greater levels of competition from TSMC. These whispers have only grown louder. I’m not declaring I concur with them, but it’s attention-grabbing to see how this write-up frames the TSMC compared to Intel struggle. Back again in 2016, points appeared pretty diverse than they do currently.

The Qualcomm antitrust lawsuit disclosures paint Intel’s failure to acquire market place share in a pretty diverse gentle, but I have additional to say about that in Component 2 of this up-to-date tale.

Initial Story Beneath:

Just in excess of 4 many years back, we reviewed Intel’s very first plausible smartphone, the Xolo 900. Whilst it couldn’t match additional highly effective gadgets of the day, it was a good first exertion. Much more importantly, the Medfield SoC that run the Xolo 900 was intended to be a beachhead, a harbinger, a indicator of points to come.

Four many years and billions of dollars later on, it’s now very clear that the extended-awaited ARM-compared to-x86 war won’t be fought in the pill or smartphone market place. Intel has canceled all of its publicly introduced 14nm smartphone SoCs and most of its 14nm pill SoCs that would have shipped in Android gadgets. The company is diving into 5G research and hopes to lead the marketplace in acquiring 5G products and solutions. But its 3G and 4G modems are still created on the 28nm approach node at TSMC, even as opponents like Qualcomm move to 14nm for their individual products and solutions.

How did Intel manage to expend up to $10 billion and have so very little to demonstrate for it? There’s no solitary, uncomplicated solution — but there are surely some using tobacco guns. If you want to recognize what went wrong for Intel, we need to discuss about the semiconductor marketplace as a whole.

Of Fabs and Foundries

The semiconductor marketplace is dominated by 4 firms: GlobalFoundries, Intel, Samsung, and TSMC. 3 of these firms — GlobalFoundries, Samsung, and TSMC — are recognized as pure-enjoy foundries or merchant foundries. Their business enterprise design is based on producing silicon for other firms, not designing and launching products and solutions that they offer them selves. (Samsung does build some personalized silicon for by itself, but the bulk of its foundry business enterprise arrives from exterior shoppers).


Unlike the merchant foundries, Intel styles and builds equally its fabrication vegetation and its microprocessors. Till the last couple of many years, Intel never ever took foundry shoppers. Intel’s current tries to split into the merchant foundry business enterprise by attracting a handful of large-margin shoppers weren’t all that profitable and have however to create substantial revenue for the company.

The distinction among merchant foundries and IDMs (integrated gadget suppliers) like Intel is a important part of why Intel’s mobile attempts performed out the way they did.

Intel’s producing technique traditionally relied on fast adopting new approach engineering. The bulk of the company’s revenue is derived from leading-edge nodes older facilities had been possibly upgraded or shut down as they became out of date. The chart under reveals Intel’s R&D costs as a percentage of whole sales as in contrast to Samsung and TSMC:

R&D spending between semiconductor companies

TSMC pursues a pretty diverse optimization technique. Whilst it also invests in leading-edge semiconductor engineering, the bulk of TSMC’s revenue is gained on older engineering nodes. The chart under is based on TSMC’s Q1 2015 effects:


TSMC’s revenue by approach node

As of Q1 2015, 39 percent of TSMC’s revenue was gained on engineering nodes it deployed 10-20 many years back. 54 percent of its revenue came from nodes that had been in volume production at the very least eight many years back. Intel made confined use of older facilities to build its chipsets, but its business enterprise design is basically diverse.

For most of 30 many years, that difference didn’t seriously subject. From the 1980s through 2010, Intel beat its lower-volume RISC opponents and seized the info centre by leveraging the economies of scale it designed in the consumer Computer market place. It crushed its only severe competitor in the x86 market place and compelled AMD to offer its individual fabs in an exertion to survive.


Intel drove volume in new marketplaces by exploiting economies of scale it had designed somewhere else

The pure-enjoy foundries and Intel worked in parallel tracks, typically contending with some of the exact challenges, but prioritizing and solving them in diverse methods. Intel created its foundries to demanding criteria making use of a philosophy it known as “Copy Accurately.” It prioritized large yields, targeted nearly solely on microprocessors, and enforced rigid structure guidelines. Intel products and solutions had been designed to be created at Intel foundries with Intel equipment and Intel’s set up greatest procedures.

In contrast, TSMC and the other merchant foundries designed their approach nodes to fulfill the desires of a lot of diverse purchasers. Their fabs prioritize throughput and flexibility although reducing cost. Both equally models worked beautifully for their respective businesses — until finally their businesses began to collide.

The Boundaries of Know-how

Intel’s failure to acquire traction in the mobile market place highlights the flaws in treating technological progress as a roadmap for company achievements. In spite of current delays and its individual decision to abandon its tick-tock design, Intel still owns the most technologically superior foundries in the globe. It is the only company to have deployed a true 14nm die shrink and it’ll be the very first company to deploy a true 10nm node as opposed to a 10/14 or 10/16 hybrid. All of this is true — as is the actuality that Intel put in $10 billion (in accordance to Re/code) in mobile with nothing to demonstrate for it.

Know-how internet sites, which include ExtremeTech, have typically talked over x86 compared to ARM or AMD versus Nvidia strictly in conditions of approach node and roadmap. This performs particularly nicely when speaking about developments in battery existence or general performance, but substantially less nicely when used to businesses who suddenly uncover them selves in direct levels of competition for the very first time in many years.

In Component 2 of this two-part sequence, we focus on how Intel’s business enterprise design and progress priorities slowed and sabotaged its ability to contend efficiently in the mobile globe. We also focus on why the myriad ARM-compared to-Atom debates unsuccessful to seize the authentic challenges plaguing Chipzilla, and why the company observed these kinds of confined adoption of its products and solutions.

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