Competitive Advantage Brings Innovation with Every Tick and Tock

One of Intel’s key competitive advantages is the “Tick-Tock” chip design and manufacturing method. To help Intel shareholders — like me, my family and many friends — better understand how this Tick-Tock method really works, my pals inside Intel’s Investor Relations created this video with Intel CIO Dianne Bryant.

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Bryant describes and shows how Intel is delivering technology innovation on a reliable and predictable timeline by alternating and delivering the next-generation of silicon technology followed by new processor microarchitecture designs on a drumbeat cadence, year after year.

The “Tick” Intel delivers new silicon process technology, where Intel dramatically increases the number of new transistors onto every single “die” that ultimately becomes the core of a computer processor. During the process, engineers work together to enhance overall computer chip performance and energy efficiency into a ever smaller, more refined version of existing microarchitecture available on the market.

In the second year, the “Tock” delivers entirely new processor microarchitecture to optimize the value of the increased number of transistors and technology updates now available.

Here’s what an Intel Core i7 (formerly called Nehalem) “die” looks like as they’re manufactured side by side on a 300 millimeter wafer.

Nehalem Glamour Shot 1

Today I shared email with Jeff Armstrong, an Intel process engineer, Thin Films-Dielectrics, Portland Technology Development. He’s always on the leading edge of the ‘tick,’ so his insight helped me better understand additional benefits of the Tick-Tock method.

“…new architectures (new circuits, higher densities) are risky if the introduction coincides with a new process as well — variations, interactions, and complexities of manufacturing are convoluted with new architecture, new circuits, new everything.

“The major advantage of alternating new architectures to mid-life process technology is that all the variation and all the ‘surprises’ have been understood on an established architecture.

“Conversely, the introduction of a new process technology on a shrink of an existing architecture, removes the uncertainties that a new architecture may introduce into the equation.

“The benefits of tick-tock transcend even the predictable cadence to the market, and is also a technological advantage by mitigating the risk factors. Keeping the ‘newness’ to a minimum and concentrated to either the tick (process) or tock (new architecture) increases the effectiveness of troubleshooting and solving the unexpected.”

See what it’s like inside an Intel chip fab, and how how Intel revolutionized the transistor last year in this video about the cutting edge 45nm process used to make today’s latest Intel Core i7 processors.

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