Can Intel Corporation Launch Ice Lake in 2018?

On Aug. 21, microprocessor giant Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) announced the first wave of its eighth-generation Core processors for the personal computer market, known as Kaby Lake Refresh.

These chips are targeted at the mainstream notebook computer market, and are manufactured in the company's 14nm+ technology.

Within the next couple of quarters, Intel is expected to round out its eighth-generation Core processor family with high-end chips known as Coffee Lake (built using the company's 14nm++ technology) as well as Cannon Lake (manufactured using the company's first-generation 10-nanometer technology).

Intel's next-generation Core processor family -- presumably set to be marketed as the company's ninth-generation Core processor -- is called Ice Lake. The Ice Lake processors are set to be built using the company's second-generation 10-nanometer technology, known as 10nm+.

Though Intel hasn't officially revealed its planned timing for Ice Lake-based processors, generally reliable tech website PC Watch, citing OEM/ODM sources, says that Ice Lake is planned for introduction next year.

How can Intel pull that off?

What needs to happen

I think Intel's chip development teams will be able to deliver Ice Lake on time. This product is already massively behind the original schedule, and I believe that the delays are primarily due to Intel's chip manufacturing technology development organization dropping the ball rather than the product development organization failing to deliver.

So, at the end of the day, for Intel to launch Ice Lake-based chips in 2018, Intel's technology and manufacturing group (TMG) will need to have its 10nm+ manufacturing technology ready for high volume production by, say, mid-2018.

Remember: It takes a while to produce a wafer of chips. The time it takes to go from a blank, unprocessed wafer to a finished wafer (this is called "cycle time") is something on the order of three months (though this can vary based on the complexity of the manufacturing technology).

This means that if Intel starts shipping production Ice Lake processors to its customers in, say, the November/December time frame (for system launches in January 2019), then it'll need to have gone into mass production on the chips around August 2018.

That's not impossible if Intel executes well, and certainly enhancing the base 10-nanometer technology for more performance is easier than bringing 1-nanometer into volume production in the first place, but Intel's execution during the 14-nanometer generation has me cautious.

We'll know by early next year

I expect that Intel will lay out its product and chip manufacturing technology launch plans at its investor meeting next year, which I expect will be held in either February or March.

I also wouldn't be surprised to see the company host another dedicated Technology and Manufacturing day shortly after the investor meeting as it did this year to go into more depth on these topics as well.

Though I am cautiously optimistic that we'll see at least some Ice Lake parts next year, I'm also going to work hard to keep that enthusiasm solidly in check.

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Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. David Gardner has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Tom Gardner has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.