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Exclusive: Intel’s Ponte Vecchio Xe HPC GPU is not manufactured on TSMC’s 6nm process

A day ago, we covered a report from DigiTimes that said Intel had booked 180,000 wafers for their 6nm process and would use the node for their flagship HPC Ponte Vecchio GPU. Well, it turns out that DigiTimes did the order right (more on that later), but was not aware of the product at all. Intel’s Ponte Vecchio GPU will not be manufactured according to TSMC’s 6nm process. Instead, it is made simultaneously on both TSMC’s 5nm and Intel’s 7nm process.

Intel’s Ponte Vecchio GPU is made simultaneously on Intel 7nm and TSMC 5nm

Intel’s PVC GPU is the company’s flagship discrete graphics and is set to star in the upcoming Aurora supercomputer. So it is not surprising that investors were scared when they heard Intel’s CEO accept that the company will rely more on TSMC in an effort to compliment their own foundries. Two separate publications then reported that Intel’s PVC GPU will be manufactured on the TSMC 6nm process, which was even more surprising as T6 is essentially an optimized variant of T7 roughly equal in density to Intel’s 10nm process. Such a shift would drastically change the power profile of Intel’s upcoming GPU.

So we independently contacted a number of sources in Taiwan and got the first hand facts from people directly involved in making this GPU. These are the facts (they are referenced from every source to verify their validity):

  • TSMC’s 5nm process is roughly comparable in density to Intel’s 7nm process, and PVC is only achievable at that density level – so 6nm (which is an optimized process for TSMC 7nm) is excluded.
  • Ponte Vecchio has multiple SKUs.
  • All PVC SKUs have an IO mold made at Intel.
  • Compute dies are made based on Intel’s 7nm process or TSMC’s 5nm process depending on the exact SKU.
  • The Rambo cache is also made internally at Intel.
  • The connectivity matrix (Intel Xe) was originally intended to be built at TSMC and will continue to be.
  • Intel has placed an order of 180,000 wafers on the TSMC 6nm process, but it is not related to PVC and is part of their ongoing partnership (Intel has been using TSMC for quite some time).

So there you have it. Although the Taiwanese newspapers were right about the order of the wafers, they had the wrong idea that it was PVC. That order is not related to Ponte Vecchio at all, which requires a process with a density greater than TSMC 7nm / 6nm and / or Intel 10nm. If you are only interested in the world of facts and don’t want to enter the dark but dreamy realm of developed speculation, stop now.

[speculation] However, it begs the question: will we see a TSMC 5nm flavored PVC SKU for an Intel? That’s entirely possible, as Intel’s 7nm has slowed down and TSMC’s 5nm process remains on track to arrive by 2021. In both cases, we are unlikely to see volume on PVC parts before 2022. [/speculation]

I would also like to point out that this is the state of things as they stand now, should Intel magically fix their 7nm process and get back on track – things can move a bit. Intel’s deleted tweet said the company is planning a big reveal soon, and I feel like we’ll get a lot of information when that happens – and more clarity on their Xe efforts.

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