Intel delays Broadwell chips for PCs and hybrids

Production of the chips has been delayed by a quarter, which could push back the release of PCs

Intel has delayed production of its "Broadwell" processors due to a manufacturing glitch, something analysts say could postpone the launch of PCs and tablets based on the new chip.

Intel ran into some problems with the 14-nanometer process used to manufacture the chips and will have to fix them before it can resume production, CEO Brian Krzanich said during Intel's earnings call on Tuesday.

"We're planning to begin production in the first quarter of next year," he said.

The Broadwell chips will succeed Intel's "Haswell" line of Core processors, which are manufactured using a 22-nanometer process. The number refers to the dimensions of circuits etched on the chips.

Intel showed a laptop running on Broadwell at the Intel Developer Forum last month. Intel says the chips will be 30 percent more power-efficient and faster than their Haswell counterparts.

Intel normally releases new chips like clockwork on an annual basis, and the manufacturing problems are a rare misstep for the company. Krzanich said there were problems with the "yield" -- or the number of good chips the company gets per silicon wafer.

Analysts said the manufacturing issue could delay the chip's release to PC makers, affecting the release dates of their products.

"The way to look at it is the actual launch [of Broadwell] takes place on a different date," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Intel hasn't had to delay a major chip release since the Pentium 4 more than a decade ago, McCarron said.

Broadwell is based on the same architecture as Haswell but made with a more advanced process -- something known as a "process shrink" in industry parlance. Broadwell's delay won't affect the release of its successor, Skylake, Krzanich said, as Skylake will be based on a brand-new architecture.

That will mean a shorter lifespan for the Broadwell chips, McCarron said.

The problems with Broadwell won't affect the release of other chips for mobile devices made using the 14-nanometer process, according to Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.

"I don't expect this to impact mobile processors that need 14-nanometer the most," Moorhead said in an email.

Intel plans to release 14-nm Atom chips code-named Airmont for tablets and smartphones next year. It expects the chips to be faster and more power-efficient, which could mean longer battery life for products. Intel competes in mobile devices with ARM, whose processor designs are used in most phones and tablets today.

Tech-savvy users should be able to upgrade their chips from Haswell to Broadwell in some products.

"Broadwell and Haswell are pin compatible, so for the most part this will slide into existing systems," Krzanich said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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