02:04 | Intel: IDM 2.0, New Arizona Fabs, 7nm Back on Track, and Intel Foundry Services
Arguably the biggest news of the week was Intel’s “Intel Unleashed: Engineering the Future” event, presented by new CEO Pat Gelsinger. During the digital event, Gelsinger cleared the air on several key issues at Intel and outlined a path forward for Intel after it has spent the last few years on the rails and suffered several very public and crippling setbacks. Overall, the reception to the news has been very positive, and it seems to be exactly what Intel needed.
Intel made several important announcements, some of which mark a key shift in Intel’s strategy and business. We’ll go over each of them below.
IDM 2.0: Intel announced its intent to double-down on manufacturing in the future with its vision of IDM 2.0. This vision will see Intel invest $20B into construction of two brand new fabs at its Arizona campus, both of which will utilize leading technology and process nodes, including EUV lithography.
Secondly, Intel will expand its use of external foundries, like TSMC, to ensure products get out the door and stay on roadmap. Lastly, Intel is announcing Intel Foundry Services, which will provide foundry services and custom silicon for customers globally. Intel Foundry Services will also open up Intel’s own x86 portfolio, as well as Arm and RISC-V. Intel will also offer its own advanced packaging technologies, such as EMIB and Foveros. Thus far, Intel has already signed RISC-V maker SiFIVE as a customer.
Intel Foundry Services: IFS will allow Intel to extract maximum revenue from its fabs; fabs are bottomless money pits, and they can’t afford to sit idle. Secondly, speaking long term, it also presents some Western silicon independence, which has been a major political point in the EU and US over the past year. Lastly, IFS could help put Intel’s manufacturing back on the map and help rebuild its prowess and reputation, especially if it's able to build-out a differentiated offering of processes, similar to what TSMC and Samsung have done.
Intel hasn’t made it clear just how open its portfolio of IP will be, as we’re not sure if Intel will be offering its latest x86 IP and technology or something one or two generations behind. Intel does have a distinct advantage over other foundries in that it can offer foundry and manufacturing services like other foundries, as well as potentially license IP like cores and architecture, similar to Arm.
7nm Back on Track: Gelsinger also confirmed that the issues plaguing the 7nm process node have been addressed. Last year, Intel ended up delaying its 7nm portfolio and revising its roadmap in the wake of defects and poor yields with its 7nm process. Gelsinger was a bit light on details surrounding the solution, but did say that “We’ve rearchitected and simplified our 7nm process flow, increasing our use of EUV by more than 100%.”
Gelsinger also announced that with 7nm back on track, Intel will tape in its first 7nm compute tile (chiplet) for Meteor Lake in the second quarter of this year. Meteor Lake is slated to be Intel’s first client product at 7nm, with Granite Rapids for the data center.
Other: Intel also reaffirmed its 2023 roadmap, which included the aforementioned 7nm Meteor Lake and Granite Rapids -- both will use 7nm compute tiles built at Intel. Intel is on track to deliver 10nm Ice lake-SP shortly, and customers are already testing Sapphire Rapids, which is set to ramp in 2022. Intel will also be partnering with IBM to research advanced packaging and silicon development.
09:59 | Intel Launching Ice Lake Xeons On April 6
Intel has revealed that it will hold a special launch event to inaugurate the arrival of its 3rd-Generation Xeon Scalable processors, otherwise known as the long-delayed Ice Lake. The event, dubbed “How Wonderful Gets Done 2021,” will be hosted by Intel’s Navin Shenoy, Executive VP of Intel’s DGP. Joining Shenoy will be a smattering of other high-ranking executives from Intel’s DGP and Xeon and Memory Group, as well as some of Intel’s ecosystem partners.
ICL-SP is a very important milestone for Intel, marking the company’s first 10nm server chip, and its first server product to use Sunny Cove cores. Intel entered production with ICL-SP back in January, and noted that it expected to ramp into volume production at some point during Q1’2021. Intel’s yearslong struggle with migrating to its 10nm node affected Intel’s roadmap in just about every conceivable way; if 10nm wasn’t ready for little chips, it certainly wasn’t ready for the bigger chips. And while Intel has shipped client 10nm chips under the Ice Lake banner, its server chips have been a different story.
After multiple 10nm delays, Ice Lake-SP processors were once expected to land in 2020, but were inevitably pushed back into 2021. Now that we’re well into 2021, it seems Intel is finally on track with Ice Lake-SP, and is no doubt ready to unwrap the platform in an official capacity. Earlier this month, AnandTech reported that at least 30 of Intel’s key customers had already received shipments of ICL-SP, and that those shipments totaled more than 100K units. Intel’s Ice Lake-SP will be built on Intel’s second generation 10nm process (10nm+), use Sunny Cove cores, and bring in PCIe 4.0 and octa-channel memory support, just to name a few key improvements.
12:25 | Microsoft Reportedly Eying $10B Discord Acquisition
As reported by Bloomberg and VentureBeat, Discord is reportedly in talks with Microsoft over a deal that could see Microsoft acquiring Discord for more than $10 billion. As of this writing, neither Discord nor Microsoft have publicly commented on the news, and according to Bloomberg’s sources, Discord is just as likely to go public.
Bloomberg states that Epic Games and Amazon have held talks with Discord regarding a sale in the past, but Microsoft seems to be the premier candidate at the moment. According to Bloomberg, Discord is talking with Microsoft's Phil Spencer, who serves as Microsoft’s VP of Gaming and head of the Xbox brand.
This wouldn’t be the first time Discord mulled selling itself; back in 2018, the company put itself up for sale, but eventually decided to remain independent. It’s not altogether surprising for Microsoft to be drooling at a Discord acquisition, given how popular the platform is and Microsoft’s well-documented spending spree to bolster its gaming business. However, Microsoft’s track record with these kinds of acquisitions isn’t great, and we don’t need to look any further than Skype or Mixer to see that.
14:45 | Acer Suffers $50M Ransomware Attack
News broke that Acer suffered a $50 million ransomware attack perpetrated by the ransomware group REvil. The ransom demand is the highest to date, moving well past the previous high of the $30 million demand in the Dairy Farm ransomware attack, which REvil was also responsible for.
REvil has reportedly already claimed responsibility for the attack, and has posted images of stolen files online as proof of the breach. The ransom attack is potentially the result of the recently well-documented Microsoft Exchange Server exploits. Multiple outlets reached out to Acer for comment, but Acer has neither confirmed nor denied the attack.
"Acer routinely monitors its IT systems, and most cyberattacks are well defensed. Companies like us are constantly under attack, and we have reported recent abnormal situations observed to the relevant law enforcement and data protection authorities in multiple countries,” Acer told BleepingComputer.
Acer also told ZDNet that it “discovered abnormalities from March and immediately initiated security and precautionary measures. Acer's internal security mechanisms proactively detected the abnormality, and immediately initiated security and precautionary measures."
REvil has launched a streak of ransomware attacks over the last year, targeting the Asian retail chain Dairy Farm, foreign exchange company Travelex, and a New York-based law firm that represents celebrities.
16:09 | Rumor: Nvidia Working on CMP 220HX Based Off of A100 Accelerator
Nvidia is rumored to be working on a new high-end mining card, if current rumors are to be believed. Hardware leakers @kopite7kimiand @I_Leak_VN have both offered what they believe is preliminary information pertaining to the card. Allegedly, the card would be the CMP 220HX, and slot in at the very top of Nvidia’s CMP HX series.
The CMP 220HX is supposedly going to be a cut-down version of Nvidia’s A100 accelerator -- presumably a very cut-down version, as the A100 costs more than $10,000, and comes in both 40GB and 80GB VRAM variants. According to @I_Leak_VN, the CMP 220HX has a theoretical hash rate of 210 MH/s, and could land for around $3,000. As usual, take all of this with the prescribed amount of salt.
17:58 | Rumor: New Nintendo Switch Console Featuring Updated Nvidia SoC and DLSS
Bloomberg, whose own track record with gaming hardware is admittley a bit spotty, is reporting that a new Nintendo Switch console will use an updated Nvidia SoC and will feature support for Nvidia’s DLSS technology. Per Bloomberg, the new Switch would also offer a 7” OLED screen, 4K reslolution support (via DLSS) when docked and plugged into a TV, and is expected to land late this year. To be fair, predicting a new Switch this year was the obvious choice, and certainly a new SoC makes sense, so none of this is particularly surprising. The DLSS support would be the most interesting angle.
The original Switch console is based on Nvidia’s Tegra X1 SoC, and the later refreshed Tegra X1+ SoC. Over the years, Nvidia hasn’t found much of a home for its SoC designs outside of automotive or powering its own products (i.e., Nvidia Shield, Jetson, etc.). However, the Nintendo Switch was a huge success, and Nvidia would undoubtedly jump at the chance to design a new SoC for a Switch successor. And, if Nintendo wants DLSS support, that means using Nvidia hardware.
Over the last several months, there’s been a number of rumors or leaks trying to pin down what an updated Nvidia SoC would look like for a new Switch console. Some have pointed to Nvidia's Xavier SoC, and some have claimed it would be a form of Nvidia’s Orin SoC. Nvidia’s Orin SoC is aimed at automotive and is part of Nvidia’s Drive platform. Orin isn’t supposed to be available to automakers until 2022, so the idea of Nintendo getting its hands on it in 2021 is a bit hard to believe. A custom tuned off-shoot of Xavier, or an all new design (Tegra X3, perhaps) seems more likely.
20:14 | EUV Pellicles Are Almost Ready, Will Aid Transistor Scaling and Yields
In a report from SemiEngineering, we learned that ASML is finalizing its EUV pellicles and preparing them for market. For the uninitiated, EUV pellicles are a special type of pellicle to be used as EUV lithography becomes increasingly required for the manufacturing of smaller chips. Pellicles are basically thin membranes that mount to a reticle and protect the photomask from contamination. As noted by SemiEnigneering, when certain processes began using EUV, EUV-ready pellicles were not ready for prime time.
SemiEngineering reports that ASML is almost ready with its own EUV pellicles, and will hand over all assembly and distribution to Mitsui Chemicals. Mitsui also produces its own line of pellicles for optical lithography, among other products for semiconductor processes. Mitsui will produce EUV pellicles based on ASML’s technology, and already has tooling in place to ramp production this year. ASML will also continue its own R&D efforts for future pellicles.
Additionally, Imec has made progress with its own EUV pellicle development, which are based on carbon nanotubes as opposed to ASML’s polysilicon-based EUV pellicles.
21:28 | Google Hires Uri Frank, Plans To Build Custom Server SoCs To Enhance Compute
Google announced that it has hired ex-Intel Vice President and silicon designer Uri Frank. The announcement came by way of a blog post over at the Google Cloud blog. Frank abruptly left Intel shortly after being promoted to Vice President, at the time facing speculation he had accepted a more lucrative position outside of Intel.
Frank will head up a new team tasked with developing custom silicon for Google’s cloud and server compute needs. Google’s blog post didn’t mention any details regarding the chips themselves, but Google is looking to develop custom SoCs that are designed to enhance its compute performance.
“Compute at Google is at an important inflection point. To date, the motherboard has been our integration point, where we compose CPUs, networking, storage devices, custom accelerators, memory, all from different vendors, into an optimized system. But that’s no longer sufficient: to gain higher performance and to use less power, our workloads demand even deeper integration into the underlying hardware,” says Google’s Amin Vahdat, who serves as Google Fellow and Vice President of Systems Infrastructure.
Frank will come aboard Google as its VP of Engineering for server chips, and will presumably begin fleshing out a team. In fact, according to Frank’s LinkedIn, Google will begin posting open positions to fill roles for development of its custom server SoCs.
22:21 | MSI Increasing Graphics Card Prices, Expects Tight Supply To Persist
Digitimes is reporting that, unsurprisingly, MSI will be ratcheting up the prices of its graphics cards. The price hike comes as a symptom of tight supply, insatiable demand, and a global silicon shortage that has impacted multiple industries. MSI’s price increase also comes after the company confirmed earlier this year it would begin increasing prices across its catalog as a result of expired tariff exemptions. Other vendors will likely be following suit, assuming they haven’t quietly done so already.
MSI co-founder and chairman Joseph Hsu stated that MSI believes that demand for GPUs, motherboards, and notebooks will remain high for the remainder of 2021. MSI also expects supply to remain tight, but notes that shipping and transport expenses should begin to fall after March, as global logistics continue to rebound.
23:50 | GameStop Expanding Into PC Gaming and Hardware
In its latest earnings call, GameStop said it will expand into PC hardware and components. In fact, as spotted by other publications (such as PCMag), GameStop is already running a new weekly ad that shows a slew of PC peripherals and components. Furthermore, heading over to GameStop’s website shows what appear to be placeholders for a variety of PC components, such as the next to non-existent RTX 30-series cards. GameStop has also updated its website in order to sell PC hardware, with a dedicated landing page for PC gaming. We won’t forget how hard PC gaming got snubbed in the past, but it’s good to see the company waking back up to the fact that digital-first game sales relegates them to a physical commodity market.
In the earnings call, GameStop CEO George Sherman said that addressing the PC gaming market was among several key steps the company was taking to revitalize its business. “We are continuing the work to expand our addressable market by growing GameStop's product catalog. This includes growing our product offerings across PC gaming, computers, monitors, game tables, mobile gaming, and gaming TVs to name only a few,” Sherman said.
“These categories represent natural extensions that our customers would expect to buy from us expanding our addressable market size by over 5 times and over time will reduce our reliance on the cyclicality of the console-based gaming market.”
Editorial: Eric Hamilton
Host: Steve Burke
Video: Keegan Gallick