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Intel kills $700M liquid cooling lab amid chip slump

Someone's got no chill

A $700 million research and development facility in Hillsboro, Oregon, is the latest project on Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger's chopping block.

The x86 giant announced the 200,000-square-foot mega-fab last spring. Intel envisioned the site — located 20 miles west of Portland — as a research and development center where the chipmaker would prototype, qualify, test, and demo its datacenter portfolio using a variety of cooling tech.

"As we accelerate our strategy and respond to the current demand environment, we are looking to reduce costs and increase efficiencies through multiple initiatives," an Intel spokesperson said in an email to The Register.

We are looking to reduce costs and increase efficiencies through multiple initiatives

"This includes exploring more cost-effective real estate options to continue our data center R&D work in Oregon that is already in progress." 

Among the headline developments planned for the US West Coast facility was an open reference design for immersion cooling systems. As the name suggests, immersion cooling involves submerging whole systems in a tub of dielectric fluids. Heat from components such as application processors and GPUs are captured by the fluid and dissipated using either a liquid-to-liquid heat exchanger or through evaporation of specialized two-phase fluids developed by the likes of 3M.

While immersion cooling is nothing new — the technology dates back decades — implementing it at scale has proven difficult due in part to a lack of agreed upon standards.

Despite this, immersion cooling has gained mainstream appeal in recent years as chips have grown ever hotter. For reference, Intel's own datacenter silicon now tops 350W for CPUs and more than 600W for its GPUs and AI accelerators. Immersion cooling is also incredibly efficient, capable of capturing and rejecting 100 percent of the heat generated by systems. Submer, Iceotope, Midas, and Liquid Stack are just a handful of the vendors working on immersion cooling tanks and chassis.

We asked Intel whether it would move forward with the development of an immersion cooling reference design at another location and if there were any other planned cancellations on the horizon; we'll let you know if we hear anything back.

Broken promises

The cancellation is the latest cost-cutting measure following a couple of dismal quarters for Intel, the most recent of which saw the manufacturing titan's revenues plummet 20 percent year over year.

Last week, Intel issued a California worker adjustment and retraining notification (WARN) notice for 544 jobs and confirmed the termination of a $200 million research and development center in Haifa, Israel. The high-tech campus was one of the first announcements Gelsinger made after replacing former chief exec Bob Swan in 2021. Intel will complete construction of a parking garage on the site, according to Israeli publication Globes.

R&D facilities may not be the only things dragged from the project folder to the desktop trash can. In October, faced with dwindling PC demand and lackluster datacenter revenues, Intel said it would lay off a "meaningful number" of workers and cut spending by roughly $10 billion annually by 2025.

And at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Gelsinger warned of a semiconductor downturn and alluded to more cancellations. Speaking with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, he said while Intel would move forward with its semiconductor fab project in Germany, plans for an advanced packaging facility in Italy were anything but final.

Government subsidies have been a sticking point for Intel as rising interest rates have driven up the cost of its Intel Foundry Services build out. Since announcing a pair of leading-edge foundries at its Arizona campus in 2021, the cost to build the facilities has increased 50 percent. The skyrocketing capex expenditures drove Intel to seek support from private equity.

Meanwhile, Intel, facing similar headwinds in Europe, is reportedly at odds with the German government over subsidies for a mega-fab in Magdeburg, Germany. Chipzilla now expects the project will cost just shy of $22 billion and is angling for additional subsidies. ®

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