Intel R&D campus key to comeback plan gets $3b boost

Chip giant also reveals next-gen 18A process months ahead of schedule

Intel has officially opened a new $3 billion expansion of its Oregon research and development campus that is key to the chipmaker's plan to overtake rivals with leading-edge chip technologies.

The semiconductor giant marked Monday as the grand opening for the latest expansion of its D1X R&D manufacturing campus in Hillsboro, Oregon. The site is home to the company's 10,000-person Technology Development team, which is responsible for creating new transistor architectures, wafer processes and packaging technologies that serve as the basis for Intel's CPUs and other silicon.

The expansion consists of an extra 270,000 square feet of clean room space to develop new-generation process technologies, which will give the chipmaker greater capacity to work on multiple process technologies in parallel.

In recent years, Intel has fallen behind foundries like TSMC and chip designers like AMD and Nvidia that rely on the latter because of manufacturing issues with Intel's 10nm and 7nm processes over the past several years.

When Pat Gelsinger became Intel's CEO last year, he vowed to fix the company's issues and return to an accelerated pace of introducing new chip processes, in this case delivering five nodes in four years. This began with Intel 7, the new name for Intel's 10nm Enhanced SuperFin node that began last year, and ends with Intel 18A, which will be ready for manufacturing in the second half of 2024.

That last fact represents an important update from Intel. When the company revealed its new process roadmap last summer, it said Intel 18A would be ready for early 2025, which means the company is at least a few months ahead of schedule. Gelsinger has been saying as much in recent statements.

This means the nearly 500,000-square foot D1X campus, which Intel has renamed to Gordon Moore Park in honor of the company's co-founder, will play an outsized role in Gelsinger's comeback vision. The plan includes developing new technologies like the RibbonFET transistor architecture and PowerVia backside power delivery method that are critical to next-generation processes like Intel 18A.

Other inventions created at Gordon Moore Park include the high-k metal gate technology, tri-gate 3D transistors and strained silicon, all of which Intel said have been critical to its ability to "maintain pace" with Moore's law.

"These groundbreaking process innovations all originated right here in Oregon. With the new expansion of our D1X factory, Oregon is well-positioned to deliver the next generation of leading-edge technologies," said Ann Kelleher, head of Intel's Technology Development team.

We should note Intel's manufacturing slip-ups are one reason why people in the industry are increasingly questioning whether we should continue to count on Moore's so-called law, which holds that the density of transistors will double in chips about every two years.

But Intel is adamant in its belief that these new technologies will keep Moore's law alive.

"Since its founding, Intel has been devoted to relentlessly advancing Moore's law. This new factory space will bolster our ability to deliver the accelerated process roadmap required to support our bold IDM 2.0 strategy," said Gelsinger, referring to the evolution of Intel's integrated device manufacturing strategy that involves a revitalized foundry business.

Now you may be wondering: Did Intel use this news to remind Americans that US Congress should pass $52 billion in chip subsidies to support the company's big US manufacturing expansion? You bet it did, thanks to a new blog post from Intel's head of government relations, Al Thompson.

"Funding the [CHIPS for America Act] is critical to bolstering America's technological competitiveness and will help level the playing field for American companies by providing federal incentives to build new factories in the U.S. and invest in essential technology research and development," Thompson wrote. ®

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