Intel's plan for growth in 2010 can be summed up in one esoteric term: 32 nanometer. That's where Intel's chips are going across the board--laptops, servers, and even new markets like smartphones, according to chief executive Paul Otellini and chief financial officer Stacy Smith, who spoke during the company's fourth-quarter earnings conference call Thursday afternoon.
Intel reported earnings Thursday that were unusually strong, blowing past even upbeat Wall Street forecasts.
And what's the secret of Intel's success? Process technology. Intel is in the midst of moving the bulk of its chips from a 45-nanometer manufacturing process to an industry-leading 32-nanometer process. Generally, the smaller the geometries, the faster and more power efficient the chip. Intel is better at executing these critical process transitions than any chipmaker on the planet.
"What we're doing...is moving 32 nanometer into the mainstream more quickly than we did with 45 (nanometer)," Otellini said during the earnings conference call. "Looking ahead over the next three months, we are planning to refresh our entire server product line with new 32-nanometer Xeon (processors)."
CFO Smith echoed this sentiment, saying that "mainstream and value versions" of 32-nanometer chips will appear later in the year, thereby completing an across-the-board transition to this new technology.
And Intel telegraphed this transition at the Consumer Electronics Show last week when it rolled out dozens of new processors based on 32-nanometer technology. These new chips include the latest versions of the Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors. The mobile version of the 32-nanometer Core i5 has already made it into new laptops from Hewlett-Packard and Dell and is expected to make an appearance in new MacBook Pros from Apple.
What else is hot at Intel? Atom. This processor powers Netbooks and Intel's very large but mundane "embedded" chip business. "Atom design momentum is very strong with our new 'Pine Trail' platform in over 80 Netbook designs. In the embedded space, we now have over 600 Atom-based design wins," Otellini said.
In 2009, Atom and Netbooks became a $1.4 billion business for Intel, Smith said.
Eventually, 32-nanometer chips will also drive Intel's push into smartphones. "At CES we demonstrated progress with handhelds...built around Atom cores. We demonstrated for the first time the LG GW990 (smartphone) built with our yet-released Atom 'Moorestown' platform," Otellini said.