Intel buys first set of next-gen chipmaking tools set to arrive in 2024
Intel announced that it has ordered the first of a new generation of chipmaking machines from ASML, a Dutch manufacturer of photolithography systems.
The purchase is Intel’s latest move in a larger effort to regain the upper hand in the chip market. Each of the new ASML machines, dubbed “Twinscan EXE:5200”, costs an average of US$340 million (about C$425 million) and is expected to arrive in 2024. They are considered essential for advancing processors. One of the primary ways chipmakers are advancing processors is through miniaturization. By reducing chip circuitry, manufacturers can scale more to processors, allowing them to do more work.
Photolithography, which literally means “writing on stone with light” according to CBS, is at the heart of the chip circuit miniaturization process. Both Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) have surpassed Intel in this regard through the use of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light. The shorter wavelength of EUV allows manufacturers to inscribe finer patterns on silicon wafers.
CBS reports that Intel was late for the EUV game, but the company is now working to fix this. The company plans to start selling its first EUV chips in 2023 with processors based on the “Intel 4” node – the company’s somewhat confusing new name for its 7nm process.
The new Twinscan EXE:5200 machines are expected to be delivered in 2024 for Intel operations from 2025. The machine uses an advanced EUV tool with a high numerical aperture (NA) to inscribe even finer patterns on silicon wafers .
In simpler terms, that means we’re still several years away from seeing Intel’s more advanced and hopefully more competitive NA EUV process (likely as part of Intel’s 18A process planned for 2025). Intel is only ramping up EUV with Intel 4, which was originally supposed to launch in 2021 but was notoriously delayed (and renamed).
With Samsung and TSMC already using EUV for 5nm and even 4nm (with Samsung’s new Exynos 2200), there is still a clear gap between the companies. Even though Intel is first in line for NA EUV technology, it still lags behind the current EUV. And it’s not like Samsung or TSMC will sit idle and let Intel catch up. The next few years will certainly be interesting in the chip market and I expect competition to intensify as Intel chases the top spot.
Image credit: Intel