Intel’s Expensive New Plan to Upgrade Its Chip Technology – and US Manufacturing

America's push to manufacturer more products domestically gets an in-depth look from CNET — including a new Intel chip factory outside of Phoenix. CNET calls it a fork in the road "after squandering its lead because of a half decade of problems modernizing its manufacturing..." With "a decade of bad decisions, this doesn't get fixed overnight," says Pat Gelsinger, Intel's new chief executive, in an interview. "But the bottom is behind us and the slope is starting to feel increasingly strong...." More fabs are on the way, too. In an enormous empty patch of dirt at its existing Arizona site, Intel has just begun building fabs 52 and 62 at a total cost of $20 billion, set to make Intel's most advanced chips, starting in 2024. Later this year, it hopes to announce the U.S. location for its third major manufacturing complex, a 1,000-acre site costing about $100 billion. The spending commitment makes this year's $3.5 billion upgrade to its New Mexico fab look cheap. The goal is to restore the U.S. share of chip manufacturing, which has slid from 37% in 1990 to 12% today. "Over the decade in front of us, we should be striving to bring the U.S. to 30% of worldwide semiconductor manufacturing," Gelsinger says... But returning Intel to its glory days — and anchoring a resurgent U.S. electronics business in the process — is much easier said than done. Making chips profitably means running fabs at maximum capacity to pay off the gargantuan investments required to stay at the leading edge. A company that can't keep pace gets squeezed out, like IBM in 2014 or Global Foundries in 2018. To catch up after its delays, Intel now plans to upgrade its manufacturing five times in the next four years, a breakneck pace by industry standards. "This new roadmap that they announced is really aggressive," says Linley Group analyst Linley Gwennap. "I don't have any idea how they are going to accomplish all of that...." Gelsinger has a tech-first recovery plan. He's pledged to accelerate manufacturing upgrades to match the technology of TSMC and Samsung by 2024 and surpass them in 2025. He's opening Intel's fabs to other companies that need chips built through its new Intel Foundry Services (IFS). And he's relying on other foundries, including TSMC, for about a quarter of Intel's near-term chipmaking needs to keep its chips more competitive during the upgrades. This three-pronged strategy is called IDM (integrated design and manufacturing) 2.0. That's a new take on Intel's philosophy of both designing and making chips. It's more ambitious than the future some had expected, in which Intel would sell its factories and join the ranks of "fabless" chip designers like Nvidia, AMD and Qualcomm that rely on others for manufacturing... Shareholders may not like Gelsinger's spending-heavy strategy, but one community really does: Intel's engineers... Gelsigner told the board that Intel is done with stock buybacks, a financial move in which a company uses its cash to buy stock and thereby increase its price. "We're investing in factories," he told me. "That's going to be the use of our cash...." "We cannot recall the last time Intel put so many stakes in the ground," said BMO Capital Markets analyst Ambrish Srivastava in a July research report after Intel announced its schedule. Intel will even outpace Moore's law, Gelsinger tells CNET — more than doubling the transistor count on processors every two years. "I believe that you're going to see from 2025 to 2035 a very healthy period for Moore's Law-like behavior." Although that still brings some risk to Intel's investments if they have to pass the costs on to customer, a Linley Group analyst points out to CNET. "Moore's Law is not going to end when we can't build smaller transistors. It's going to end when somebody says I don't want to pay for smaller transistors."

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