(Photo: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)Over the past few weeks, there’s been a flurry of rumors about the imperiled GPU tile Intel needs for its 14th generation CPUs, code-named Meteor Lake. Intel planned for TSMC to make the GPU tile on its 3nm process originally. It would then combine it with three other tiles, two made by Intel, the other one by TSMC, to complete the CPU’s design. However, recent reports stated the 3nm tile might be delayed. It wasn’t clear if TSMC couldn’t deliver it on time, or if Intel’s own tiles wouldn’t be ready. Now a new rumor has surfaced saying Intel is cancelling it altogether. Instead, it will just use TSMC’s current 5nm process.
News of Intel revising its plans follows a report last week from Trendforce about Meteor Lake being delayed. It stated TSMC was planning on pushing its 3nm production schedule back quite a bit. This would have had a volatile ripple effect throughout its fab operations. It said Intel was responsible, but it wasn’t clear which company’s tiles were the culprit. Also, TSMC has granted Intel special status as a customer and devoted a sizable amount of capacity to it as well. If Intel were to say “not right now” to TSMC at this stage, it could cause problems, to put it lightly. TSMC is expected to enter high-volume manufacturing of its 3nm process very soon.
Apparently, the TrendForce report got Intel’s attention. Ryan Smith from Anandtech said after it was published Intel PR reached out to various sites with an unsolicited email. The email stated Meteor Lake is still on schedule for 2023. This caused a notable CPU leaker to chime in, saying their sources told them there “shouldn’t” be any TSMC 3nm in Meteor Lake.
Instead, Intel will push the 3nm can down the road a bit. As such, it is expected to appear in Arrow Lake or Lunar Lake. Arrow Lake is the company’s 15th-generation CPU, and Lunar Lake is its 16th-generation architecture. These CPUs will be the first non-FinFET CPUs from Intel as it heads into the Angstrom era. The leaker reiterated in a later tweet that their rumors are to be taken as just that; not 100 percent verified, but likely.
The decision to skip TSMC’s most-advanced node for Meteor Lake will likely lead to reduced performance for the tGPU (tiled GPU, or how Intel refers to the “disaggregated” design for Meteor Lake). According to a rumored insider via Wccftech, the new GPU tile could have considerably fewer execution units. Intel would reportedly drop the EU count from 192 on TSMC’s N3 process, to just 128 EUs via TSMC N5. Since Meteor Lake is still at least a year away, this could be using the company’s BattleMage architecture.
On the one hand, this seems like a reasonable move for Intel. If TSMC’s tile isn’t ready, it can’t afford a long delay for Meteor Lake. CEO Pat Gelsinger has pretty much staked his (and Intel’s) reputation on there being no more unexpected delays as the company moves from node to node. However, it will also lower the GPU performance of Meteor Lake, which may not matter; few customers buy an Intel CPU with the hopes of 4K gaming on the integrated GPU.
If this rumor pans out, it will mark the first major stumble on Intel’s aggressive road to recovery. As we’ve written previously, Intel has a frenetic schedule laid out for the next several years. Theoretically, it will culminate with Intel regaining “unquestioned supremacy” when it comes to its advanced node performance. That isn’t supposed to occur until 2025, and Intel’s CEO maintains the company is still on target.