Intel scrambles for relevance with new chip naming conventions

The news: Faced with surging competition from all sides, Intel made a commitment to reclaim its former glory as the dominant chipmaker for PCs and consumer electronics by 2025, per The Verge.

  • Intel proposed new conventions for how its microchips are measured, and will no longer use the nanometer-based nomenclature that’s long been the industry standard. Intel instead plans on adopting a naming system that provides “a more accurate view of process nodes across the industry.”
  • The company also announced plans to create hybrid chips aimed at mobile devices that will be comparable to ARM-based chips, most notably Apple’s M1 processors introduced last year.
  • Intel is building out its Intel Foundry Services (IFS) which will enable it to manufacture chips for other companies and compete directly against TSMC and Samsung.

More on this: Intel’s current and upcoming 12th Gen Alder Lake microprocessors are 10nm chips but will now be known as “Intel 7,” while its future 7nm products will be called “Intel 4,” which could be seen as misleading. For comparison, AMD’s 7nm Ryzen processors have been available since 2020 and Apple’s M1 chip is built with a 5nm process. Plans to create a range of hybrid chips aimed at mobile devices still leaves Intel far behind the competition in the highly competitive mobile chip market.

How we got here: Once the leading chipmaker catering to Windows and Apple computers, Intel led the pack in terms of performance and innovation. Continuous delays in its product-release cycle affected the entire PC industry, which relies on new processors to help launch new devices.

  • Intel’s delays and inability to deliver on power efficiency and performance for next-gen computing devices have prodded clients like Apple and Microsoft to develop their own silicon in-house for PCs, servers, and IoT devices.
  • Cloud-based PC operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows 365 suggest a possible shift away from hardware-dependent computing in general.
  • AMD’s competing PC and server chips can match the performance of Intel-made chips but are more affordable and are already starting to creep into popular PC lines.

The problem: Intel’s announcements come off more as a marketing gimmick than an actual shift in product strategy. Intel will continue to struggle to remain competitive mostly because it’s still the most expensive chipmaker in the market and continues to be plagued by delays and dated tech—problems that will persist regardless of the new nomenclature.

The opportunity: Of all its recent strategy announcements, Intel’s planned foundry service to make chips for other companies makes the most sense, at least for the short term. The chip shortage has led to an insatiable demand for microprocessors and Intel can leverage its expertise and existing factories to ramp up production for the likes of Qualcomm.