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Lead-tin interconnects, like the ones seen on this Intel "Prescott" processor, are a thing of the past. (Thumbnail and image source: Chipworks)
Intel is taking the next step in environmentally friendly products

Intel Corporation announced on Tuesday that the future of its microprocessors will be lead-free and environmentally friendly.  This follows a big tech industry shift towards products that are more environmentally friendly.  The shift will begin with its line of "green" 45-nanometer high-k metal gate (Hi-k) processors, which includes the next-generation Intel Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad and Xeon processors.

Lead is mainly used in a variety of micro-electric "packages" and "bumps" that attach the Intel chip to "packages", which are then wrapped around the chip and used to connect it to the motherboard.  Package designs include pin grid array, ball grid array, and land grid array, and will all be 100 percent lead-free.

With the introduction of 65nm Yonah, Chipworks -- a company that reverses engineers chip packaging -- discovered that Intel silently transitioned from lead-tin solder-ball interconnects to plated copper pillars. Since then, all 65nm Intel processors no longer use lead for interconnects.

"Intel is taking an aggressive stance toward environmental sustainability, from the elimination of lead and a focus on greater energy efficiency of our products to fewer air emissions and more water and materials recycling," said Nasser Grayeli, Intel vice president and director of assembly test technology development, Technology and Manufacturing Group.

Lead, which can cause neurological damage in humans if ingested, was used in electronics for decades due to its electrical and mechanical properties.  Intel produced its first lead-free flash memory product in 2002, and began shipping products with 95 percent less lead than previous chips in 2004.  The remaining 5 percent was replaced by a tin/silver/copper alloy in the first-level interconnect, the solder joint that connects the silicon die to the package substrate.

In February 2003, the European Union adopted the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive. The directive mandated that all electronics sold must be near lead-free by June 2006. Special clauses protected microprocessors from utilizing some lead in their design, but AMD and Intel both opted to go lead free before the call to action date anyway.

Production on the Intel lead-free 45 nanometer high-k processors, codenamed Penryn, will begin in the second half of this year.




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