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Moore's law is cracked: Intel's next chips transition come in 2.5 years. 10nm Cannon Lake is scheduled for late 2017
THE THEORY OF MOORE'S LAW might be showing cracks after Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced that the firm's shift from one transistor size to another is stretching from two to 2.5 years.
Moore's Law is the prediction made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that computing power would double every two years.
The law turned 50 earlier this year, and Intel said that the best is yet to come, and that the law will become more relevant in the next two decades as everyday objects become smaller, smarter and connected.
Intel has adhered to this in the past, using a 'tick-tock' strategy when launching new processors. The 'tick' refers to a shrinking of the manufacturing process, while the 'tock' is an improvement of the design and architecture at the same size.
However, Krzanich questioned this during Intel's earnings call on Wednesday, saying that manufacturing processes haven't advanced at the same rate as in the past.
"The [tick-tock] strategy created better products for our customers and a competitive advantage for Intel," said Krazanich.
"It also disproved the death of Moore's Law predictions many times over. The last two technology transitions have signalled that our cadence today is closer to 2.5 years than two."
He added that to address this, Intel plans to introduce a third 14nm product, codenamed Kabylake, in the second half of 2016 built on the foundations of the Skylake micro-architecture but with performance enhancements.
The firm will then launch its first 10nm product, codenamed Cannonlake, in the second half of 2017.
"We expect that this addition to the roadmap will deliver new features and improved performance and pave the way for a smooth transition to 10nm," he added.
However, Krzanich denied that this slip means that Intel is losing grip as a leading chip manufacturer.
"We believe, even with this in 2017, our lead in Moore's Law will not change dramatically. We believe we'll continue to lead with roughly the same position that we have today," he said.
"We base that on what really counts when I talk about 2017. That's not samples, that's not small volume. That's converting over the Cannonlake and producing a large percentage of our CPUs in volume in the second half of 2017.
"So there's a bit of definition. So at the second half of 2017, we're talking about millions of units and large volumes."
Krzanich explained that there are a number of reasons why the transitions in Intel's chip technology are taking longer.
The lithography continues to get more difficult as the firm tries to scale, and the number of multi-pattern steps needed increases, but this is the longest period of time without a lithography node change.
"So we're assuming 10nm does not have EUV [extreme ultraviolet lithography] for our technology," he said. "That's combined with the other material science changes you do with the new technology."
The admission of a change in cadence was the most interesting news to come out of the earnings call, but wasn't the only thing Intel had to talk about.
The company posted Q2 earnings of 55c per share on revenue of $13.2bn, operating income of $2.9bn and net income of $2.7bn.
This represented a 3.2 percent drop in Q2 profit on revenues that fell 4.6 percent, but was better than analysts had expected. Wall Street had predicted 50c a share on $13.04bn.
Intel blamed weaker than expected growth in the PC market for the decline, but still reported strong data centre and Internet of Things business, which helped offset weak demand for PCs that use Intel chips.
The firm reported data centre group revenue of $3.9bn, five percent higher sequentially and up 10 percent from the same period a year ago.
"Q2 results demonstrate the transformation of our business as growth in data centre, memory and IoT accounted for more than 70 percent of our operating profit and helped offset a challenging PC market," said Krzanich.
"We continue to be confident in our growth strategy and are focused on innovation and execution.
"We expect that the launches of Skylake, Microsoft's Windows 10 and new OEM systems will bring excitement to client computing in the second half of 2015."