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TSMC may surpass Intel in quarterly revenue for first time

Fab frenemies: x86 giant set to give Taiwanese chipmaker more money as it revitalizes foundry business

In yet another sign of how fortunes have changed in the semiconductor industry, Taiwanese foundry giant TSMC is expected to surpass Intel in quarterly revenue for the first time.

Wall Street analysts estimate TSMC will grow second-quarter revenue 43 percent quarter-over-quarter to $18.1 billion. Intel, on the other hand, is expected to see sales decline 2 percent sequentially to $17.98 billion in the same period, according to estimates collected by Yahoo Finance.

The potential for TSMC to surpass Intel in quarterly revenue is indicative of how demand has grown for contract chip manufacturing, fueled by companies like Qualcomm, Nvidia, AMD, and Apple who design their own chips and outsource manufacturing to foundries like TSMC.

This trend has created a quandary for Intel. The semiconductor giant has traditionally manufactured the chips it designs as part of its integrated device manufacturing model but the company is now increasingly reliant on TSMC and other foundries for certain components, while expanding its own manufacturing capacity in the West.

The kicker is that Intel plans to use this increased capacity to produce more of its own chips while also supporting its revitalized foundry business, which hopes to take business from TSMC and South Korea's Samsung, the industry's other leading-edge chipmaker, in the future.

This new strategy by Intel is called IDM 2.0, and it means the chipmaker will have to juggle two somewhat conflicting objectives:

  • taking foundry market share away from TSMC and Samsung by convincing various fabless chip designers to use its plants;
  • and using leading-edge nodes from TSMC and Samsung for certain components to compete with fabless companies like AMD and Nvidia.

One impact of this strategy is that Intel could potentially help TSMC grow in the future. For instance, Intel's upcoming Ponte Vecchio datacenter GPU will use five different process nodes from itself and TSMC. On the PC side, Intel's next-generation Meteor Lake client processors, which are set to debut in 2023, will also use a mix of nodes from Intel and TSMC.

Meanwhile, Intel's new contract manufacturing business, Intel Foundry Services, is still in its very early stages. In the first quarter, Intel Foundry Services only brought in $283 million [PDF], which was about 1.6 percent of the $16.7 billion in sales TSMC generated in the same period.

Samsung has already surpassed Intel as the largest semiconductor company by revenue, so TSMC potentially growing larger than the x86 giant further underscores the tentative position Intel is in. ®

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