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IBM's new breakthrough could allow its next generation of Cell processors to reach 22 nm before Intel does.
New techniques will allow tinier computer chips than ever before

The race to shrink circuits is a never ending one.  Having achieved 45nm with its Penryn processors, Intel is looking to move to 32nm next year for the die-shrink of its upcoming Nehalem processor.  Meanwhile, competitor AMD is struggling to get its first 45nm offering, Shanghai, ready for release later this year

However, while the back-and-forth between AMD and Intel often steals the show, the race for die shrinks has several other key competitors.  One is Texas Instruments (TI), who claims to lead Intel in 45nm deployment and performance.  While TI currently doesn't have much in the way of PC/server processor plans, IBM does.  IBM is looking to beat AMD and Intel in die-shrinks and pave the way for its processors to dominate a number of markets, including the PC/server space.

Having already shrunk its powerful Cell processor used in the PS3 to a 45nm production process, IBM is planning to quickly transition to 22nm.

At 22nm, the existing techniques for microprocessor manufacturing useful at the 45nm and 32nm nodes will become obsolete.  While currently lithography techniques cannot produce 22nm circuitry, IBM has developed a new approach called Computational Scaling, which will allow for this tiny-scale production.  The new technique uses advanced mathematical computation to adjust the shape of the masks and illuminating source during etching.

One key advantage of IBM's breakthrough is that it can advance from 32nm to 22nm without fundamental changes to its equipment.  While Intel and AMD are likely to devise similar techniques, the early breakthrough may allow IBM to seize a lead in shrinking, helping it to continue Moore's Law.

Advantages of such smaller processor are numerous.  Due to the shorter interconnects, and other factors, smaller die-sizes yield power savings.  Further, the tiny size will allow for heat reduction.  Finally, it may also allow for more cores in similar packaging.

Like Intel, IBM is planning to bring its 32nm processors to market in 2009.  However, whether it will adhere to Intel's 2011 deployment of 22nm or jump the gun is up in the air.

One thing that is clear is that IBM has plans to deploy 22nm server chips to compete with Intel's offerings.  IBM hopes to apply the new tech to its cloud computing efforts.  It hopes the greater efficiency and processing power afforded by 22nm will help to justify an increasing amount of business and private processing to be offloaded to cloud computing datacenters.

IBM also announced in August that it and its partners had developed a method of manufacturing static RAM (SRAM) cells at a 22nm node.

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By kilkennycat on 9/22/2008 2:24:50 PM , Rating: 2
IBM has a chronic history of being able to produce advanced-process silicon in very low-volumes successfully, but unable to QUICKLY transition any of their process-technologies to high-volumes with any decent yield. Not surprising really, because their silicon business is primarily focussed on IBM-specific targets, where low-volume is perfectly satisfactory. So what if the yield is 5% on an custom-design IBM server chip and only < 100K per year are produced ?

Intel, on the other hand, tailors its process-development for high-volume production from the get-go, and will not publicly announce a new process at all until they have proven confidence in satisfactory high-volume yields.

IBM has provided AMD with the process technology intended for their 45nm CPU. Notice the schedule delays? Nine months ago AMD (the late lamented Hector..) was promising 45nm CPU releases starting early in Q3 2008. Those releases were desperately needed by AMD to put serious Core2 competition in place before Nehalem arrived and regain some traction in the marketplace. That particular scenario has not happened and AMD's 45nm efforts are now going to run head-on into Nehalem.

Want to take a bet that the major problem causing the six-month delay is NOT still-unsatisfactory high-volume process-yield ? I notice that some AMD info *leaked* today from a Chinese site seems to indicate the release of a couple of 45nm processors in Q4 2008.


No indication as to whether shipments will start at the beginning or end of Q4. Since we are well into Q3 and since there have been zero public showings, public benchmarks or public shipment announcements of AMD's 45nm family, I suspect that only a very few will be shipped in Q4 2008, if any at all.

By TheFace on 9/22/2008 3:19:02 PM , Rating: 2
Interesting note too, the chips used in the PS3 (Cell), and the chips used in the 360 (PowerPC based) are both put out by IBM. PS3 was late for a variety of reasons, but the cell processor was a factor. 360 was less late but had it's fair share of processor related problems (although the graphics solution could be said to have caused much more).

By Etsp on 9/22/2008 11:13:55 PM , Rating: 2
The Wii's CPU is loosly based on the PowerPC, and is also produced by IBM...

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