Intel's upcoming move to a more advanced manufacturing process could be thrown off by the delay of a critical piece of manufacturing equipment. Concern over the delay highlights the increasing importance of chip equipment manufacturers to the continued success of the PC chip industry.
Last week SVG Lithography, based in Connecticut in the US, told industry journal Semiconductor Business News it would delay shipments of its Micrascan V 193-nanometer wavelength lithography system by three to four months. Intel is said to be relying on the Micrascan V to transition its chips from their current 0.18-micron process to 0.13-microns -- a move that will make them faster, more power-efficient and cheaper to manufacture.
The 0.13-micron process is of central importance to Intel's plans for pushing its newer chips into the mainstream PC market, according to industry analysts. The company recently slashed prices on its Pentium 4 chip, but the chip remains expensive to manufacture, and making the chip smaller will relieve some of Intel's cost burden. Pentium 4 is to transition to 0.13-micron with the chip codenamed "Northwood", due in Q4 2001.
Pentium III will also get a new lease on life with the 0.13-micron "Tualatin" chip.
According to industry reports, Intel can transition to 0.13-micron without the Micrascan V, but any alternative implies higher costs and more possible delays.
Two of Intel's fabs are due to begin 0.13-micron production at around midyear, and Intel said it is still on schedule.
As PC chips get ever smaller, advanced lithography techniques and emerging chip technologies such as IBM's development of carbon-based nanotubes are becoming more important to the chip industry's rush to double chip power every 18 months -- the historical rate that is coined by Moore's Law. This drive is at the heart of the controversy over the Netherlands' ASM Lithography's attempt to merge with SVG, which now requires the approval of the US president because of national security issues.
Intel rival AMD is implementing its own 0.13-micron process using equipment from ASML, and expects to transition its Dresden facility by the end of the year.
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