Intel looks to beat ARM on power consumption beyond 20 nm

September 25, 2012 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
Though ARM may currently have an advantage in low power processing, Intel believes it could eventually take the lead if it maintains its current pace of advancement in process technology.

Speaking to the firm’s executive vice president and head of architecture David (Dadi) Perlmutter recently, EE Times learned that Intel is pushing ahead with its sub 20-nm and 14-nm plans, while the ARM ecosystem struggles to find a business model beyond 22 nm.

Intel is biding its time. The semi giant appears quite prepared to wait a couple of generations until sub 20-nm nodes are breached before bringing the battle of low power processing to ARM and its mobile partners.

Indeed, Intel claims to have line of sight all the way to a 7-nm process, with all the firm’s CPUs becoming SoCs as of next year. Haswell will be Intel’s 22-nm SoC for tablets and Ultrabooks, while Merrifield will be the company’s SoC for tablets and smartphones.

After that, 14 nm is expected to be Intel's killer node with the most dramatic power improvements and integrated baseband--although the firm has yet to officially announce it.

Meanwhile, the ARM ecosystem has a rather more challenging road ahead of it, with low cost continuing to present a challenge for foundry supply, yield and materials science. ARM is seeing Moore's Law slowing down due to a lack of foundry spending and a deficit in R&D capabilities.

Even at the 28-nm, the ARM ecosystem is feeling the squeeze. Until very recently only one foundry (TSMC) could yield 28-nm chips, with Globalfoundries just starting to produce 28-nm in volume, and the entire industry is under-supplied.

With Intel pushing ahead to introduce FinFETs at the 22-nm and hoping to use EUV lithography at 14 nm and below, ARM faces an even bigger crisis of competition.

Meanwhile, Intel’s design teams work hand in hand with the the company's fabs, in one unified effort. “We always work very closely with the fab,” said Perlmutter. “Each time we put a new big challenge in front of the giant team,” he said, adding that every time the focus centered on