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IBM to enlist high-k metal gate technology with its 45nm chips

Alongside Intel’s news of 45nm process technology, IBM today announced its own 45nm technological advancements that apply to products manufactured in its East Fishkill, NY plant starting in 2008.

Working with AMD and its other development partners including Sony and Toshiba, IBM has found a way to construct a critical part of the transistor with high-k metal gates, that substitutes a new material into a critical portion of the transistor that controls its primary on/off switching function. The material provides superior electrical properties compared to its predecessor, silicon dioxide, enhancing the transistor's function while also reducing leakage.

As important as the new material is the method for introducing it into current manufacturing techniques. The creation of this transistor component with the new material was accomplished by the IBM team without requiring major tooling or process changes in manufacturing - an essential element if the technology is to be economically viable.

“Until now, the chip industry was facing a major roadblock in terms of how far we could push current technology,” said Dr. T.C. Chen, vice president of Science and Technology, IBM Research. “After more than ten years of effort, we now have a way forward. With chip technology so pervasive in our everyday lives, this work will benefit people in many ways.”

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RE: 45nm vs. 90nm
By Dactyl on 1/28/2007 4:18:14 PM , Rating: 3
If you have two chips, both 65nm, one with twice as many transistors as the other (so the smaller one takes up half as much die space), the smaller one will be less than half the cost to produce.

First, you can fit twice as many of the smaller chips on a wafer. Maybe slightly more than twice as many (because you're trying to fit square chips onto a circular wafer)

Second, you have to consider the defect rate. If on average X big chips per wafer have defects, on average more than X but fewer than 2X small chips will have defects.

Since the costs are basically the same either way, and you end up getting more than twice as many chips per wafer, yes, it costs less than half to produce a half-size chip.


But there are big differences when you move to a new process.

First, I don't know if the cost of the wafers and other materials changes when you're using 65nm or 45nm (I have no idea why it would or wouldn't).

Second, if you're using a different process, the defect rate will change. In fact, defect rates can drop during a process's lifetime as it gets tweaked. A newish 45nm process will almost certainly have a much higher defect rate than a tried-and-true 65nm process.

The exact figures are (probably) closely held secrets of IBM, AMD, Intel, etc. because this is really important information.

Eventually, the 45nm Conroe-equivalents should cost Intel about half or even less than half as much to manufacture as the 65nm Conroes.

But there's more to price than the cost per unit to manufacture, because manufacturing capacity is limited. Intel can't just snap its fingers and turn a 65nm fab on Monday into a 45nm fab on Tuesday. Even if the per-unit costs are half as much, if Intel can only produce 10,000 45nm CPUs a month, Intel will have no reason to sell them at half price. In fact, if their 45nm chips are real screamers, Intel can charge more for them (and would be stupid not to).

So in the near term, I wouldn't expect much difference in prices. Maybe when the first 45nm enthusiast chips come out, the 65nm enthusiast chips will go down in price a little--but remember how expensive the 65nm extreme edition Pentium IVs were even after Conroe came out?

RE: 45nm vs. 90nm
By Dactyl on 1/28/2007 4:21:01 PM , Rating: 2
(the "square chips" are actually rectangular, of course... sorry)

RE: 45nm vs. 90nm
By Viditor on 1/28/2007 11:33:09 PM , Rating: 2
Nice post Dactyl.

The one thing you forgot to mention though is that NOBODY keeps their design the same...
By that I mean that they add a lot more things into the chip which reduces those savings (in the case of Penryn, they are vastly increasing the cache and other things).
If the defect yields are equivalent, then all that really matters is the footprint of the CPU (how big it is). You can either make it smaller (and save a lot of money but the same performance), or add things to it (make it more competitive and more expensive), or even a little of both...

The bottom line is that we won't know if Intel's 45nm are cheaper to produce until we know it's size and defect rate (and we NEVER know the defect rate...).

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