Intel claims 0.13-micron milestone

Chip giant whispers manufacturing secrets

Intel on Tuesday divulged some of the secrets behind its next-generation 0.13-micron manufacturing process.

The chip maker claims to be first to finalise 0.13-micron manufacturing plans, having already passed two critical milestones: it has created static RAM chips and, more recently, samples of Pentium III chips based on the new 0.13-micron process.

Reiterating its plans for the new process, dubbed P860, Intel indicated it was on track to introduce 0.13-micron manufacturing during the first half of 2001. The 0.13 micron refers to the smallest feature inside the chip. A micron is one-millionth of a meter.

The transition to a new manufacturing process, known as a "process shrink", allows for clock speed and performance increases, together with reductions in power consumption. The combination of new features "will produce smaller, cheaper, and higher-performing microprocessors," said Mark Bohr, director of processor architecture and integration for Intel's Technology and Manufacturing Group.

Faster, more efficient P860's design rules will produce transistors small enough to pack more than 100 million transistors into a single chip, according to Bohr. Transistor speeds will increase 50 to 60 percent while consuming about 20 percent less power than P858 transistors, he said.

The 0.13 process will use smaller, faster transistors, copper interconnects, and low-capacitance dielectric materials. Intel's current P858 manufacturing process uses aluminium interconnects, the metal wires that connect transistors.

The new P860 copper interconnects and low-capacitance dielectrics will reduce resistance by up to 40 percent, helping to isolate and reduce drag on electrical signals. The transistors will operate at 1.3 volts or less, compared to the P858's 1.5 volts. "This is important to achieve low-power operation, especially in mobile applications," Bohr said, adding that P860 will allow Intel to produce lower-power chips that operate at one volt or less.

Where performance gains are realised, process shrinks can help reduce manufacturing costs over time. Because process shrinks also reduce the size of a chip, a chipmaker can produce more chips from a single wafer, which decreases its manufacturing costs per chip. The lower prices are usually passed on to the customer.

It's likely that the first 0.13-micron chips will be mobile Pentium III chips, code-named Tualatin. As previously reported by ZDNet News, the first mobile Tualatin Pentium IIIs will be 933MHz and 1GHz chips. They are scheduled for introduction in the second quarter of next year.

Intel, which plans to adapt the 0.13-micron process at nine fabrication plants by the end of 2003, is hoping to begin with its Fab 20 plant in Oregon, US in the first quarter of 2001. Fabs 22 and D2 are scheduled to start using the new process in the third quarter of next year. Fabs 17 and 24 are planned for the fourth quarter.

The company said it would be able to re-use about 70 percent of the equipment in its fabrication plants. Intel also plans to begin manufacturing chips on larger 300mm wafers in the first quarter of 2002, beginning with is new Fab D1C. The 12-inch wide wafers should yield about 2.25 times more chips than the current 200mm or 8in wafers used by Intel, the company has said.

Intel analysts reacted coolly to Tuesday's 0.13 announcement. The company "just wanted to remind everyone that they're here at 0.13 micron," said Mike Feibus, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

See Chips Central for daily hardware news, including interactive roadmaps for AMD, Intel and Transmeta.

The high-powered fight over low-power processors entered new territory this week. Chip upstart Transmeta got hit twice when IBM and Compaq ditched plans to use the Crusoe chip. But the company fought back when its initial public offering roared to life. Today Jesse Berst will tell you why Transmeta's survival is important to you. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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