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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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RE: California in my mind .......
By KristopherKubicki on 5/23/2007 9:55:00 AM , Rating: 5
While this has been widely published in California, it does not negate the fact that lead is still a neurotoxin.

Even in the studies that indicate a higher risk of birth defects, the lead must still be ingested by the parents -- which makes sense if you think about it. Make any parent ingest neurotoxins and I can assure you you'll witness higher birth defect rates.

That aside, the real reason Intel and AMD switched from lead was not because of lawsuit concerns. The amounts found in CPUs is too low to fall under violation of any of the ROHS or California clauses.

The real reason was electrical and manufacturing benefits.

RE: California in my mind .......
By P4blo on 5/23/2007 10:02:55 AM , Rating: 2
Doesn't surprise me. I'm sure they would use an opportunity like this to spin it into something positive. To those who aren't sure how you get a toxin from a CPU into your body. The danger is surely when the old chips are dumped and these metals seep into the ground at land fill sites then potentially find their way into drinking water.

RE: California in my mind .......
By masher2 on 5/23/2007 11:55:50 AM , Rating: 1
> "The danger is surely when the old chips are dumped and these metals seep into the ground"

That ignores the fact that the lead was originally pulled from that ground in the first place. Lead is mined, not manufactured.

There are countless millions of gallons flowing over countless tons of lead ore even as we speak, courtesy of Mother Nature.

RE: California in my mind .......
By crystal clear on 5/23/2007 1:49:26 PM , Rating: 3
Let these photos speak for themselves-

"Inside the Digital Dump "

RE: California in my mind .......
By masher2 on 5/23/07, Rating: 0
By crystal clear on 5/23/2007 4:23:51 PM , Rating: 1
Staples Launches Nationwide Computer and Office Technology Recycling Program

Staples makes it easy for customers to recycle e-waste by simply bringing their used computers, monitors, laptops, printers, faxes and all-in-ones to any U.S. Staples store, where the equipment will be recycled in accordance with environmental laws. All brands will be accepted, regardless of whether or not the equipment was purchased at Staples, for a fee of $10 per large item. Staples is working with Amandi Services, one of the country's most experienced and innovative electronics recyclers, to handle recycling of the equipment, following standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

RE: California in my mind .......
By smitty3268 on 5/23/2007 5:01:53 PM , Rating: 2
There are tons of radioactive uranium in the ground too, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't care if toxic nuclear waste was seeping into the ground.

RE: California in my mind .......
By masher2 on 5/23/2007 5:11:00 PM , Rating: 2
Nuclear waste isn't dangerous from the natural uranium found within it, but rather the large amount of daughter radionuclides which don't exist in nature. That's a far cry from disposing of lead identical to that found naturally within the ground.

And in any case, the dangers of radioactive waste disposal are drastically overstated as well. As long as any plutonium was first removed, nuclear waste could safely and easily be disposed of by simply dispersing it in the ocean. Emotionally, you might shy away from that solution, but given the vast amounts of radioactivity already naturally present in seawater, it wouldn't pose a threat to the environment or to human health.

RE: California in my mind .......
By masher2 on 5/23/2007 11:30:19 AM , Rating: 2
> "The real reason was electrical and manufacturing benefits. "

Are you sure about this? I was under the impression that lead-free solders were still weaker, less reliable, and harder to work with than the old leaded solders.

RE: California in my mind .......
By Goty on 5/23/2007 11:54:54 AM , Rating: 2
Copper isn't being used as a solder here.

RE: California in my mind .......
By masher2 on 5/23/2007 11:59:42 AM , Rating: 2
All lead-free solders contain copper...all those used in the electronics industry, at least.

RE: California in my mind .......
By Goty on 5/23/2007 12:52:55 PM , Rating: 2
Ah, well thanks for the correction, then.

RE: California in my mind .......
By aos007 on 5/23/2007 12:58:40 PM , Rating: 2
Actually the one I have at home does not. It's made of antimony and tin only. I'm not sure what manufacturing plants use though.

RE: California in my mind .......
By masher2 on 5/23/2007 1:03:53 PM , Rating: 1
SnSb solder is used only for plumbing applications AFAIK. Its not suitable for use in electronics applications.

RE: California in my mind .......
By aos007 on 5/23/2007 1:22:56 PM , Rating: 2
It was sold as electronics solder in a specialized shop though, alongside German-made high end silver solder. In a packaging and diameter typical of electronics soldering. It was made by Chinese so it's entirely possible they purposefully resold plumbing solder as electronics solder. It would certainly explain extreme difficult I had working with it.

RE: California in my mind .......
By stromgald on 5/23/2007 1:53:54 PM , Rating: 2
Antimony is as bad as lead if not worse. Since the focus has been on lead, companies have moved to other materials. Pure tin is also quite toxic. If I were you, I wouldn't use too much of that solder at a time.

By KristopherKubicki on 5/23/2007 1:33:11 PM , Rating: 1
He was correct that lead isn't being used a solder though. At these sizes nothing get soldered, it's all lithography.

RE: California in my mind .......
By aos007 on 5/23/2007 12:56:39 PM , Rating: 2
As someone who did a lot of soldering I can say that leaded solder is indeed MUCH easier to work with. I only have used one type of lead-free solder but it was extremely difficult to use it, even with $150+ temperature controlled iron. The melting temperature is higher and it doesn't reflow - you cannot make the joint to melt after it's made even if you up the temperature; the only way I got it to melt again is by adding some leaded solder to it. I sincerely hope they came out with newer mixtures since, as the DIYers would be SOL if this is all we can work with.

RE: California in my mind .......
By Archmaille on 5/23/2007 1:57:03 PM , Rating: 2
Are we talking about electronics soldering here? Because as a jeweler I have a lot of silver solder around and have used it in a variety of applications even to solder wires together. It flows beautifully if you know how to use it. The only time I would need a lower melting point solder is if I couldn't use a high temperature torch around the item (such as a motherboard or something that couldn't handle the 1500° F required to melt soft silver solder)

RE: California in my mind .......
By aos007 on 5/23/2007 2:03:47 PM , Rating: 2
I suspect it's a different solder. Silver solder does work beautifully and that's what I use when I can for audio electronics. It's only 4% silver though and it still has almost as much lead as the normal eutectic solder. The one I worked with is tin and antimony and masher2 pointed out it may actually be meant for plumbing (I shouldn't trust Chinese labels I guess).

RE: California in my mind .......
By crystal clear on 5/23/2007 1:53:31 PM , Rating: 2
The secret Intel Sauce-

Intel will use a tin/silver/copper alloy instead, though the exact ratios of each metal are unknown (Intel refers to this as its "secret sauce.")

RE: California in my mind .......
By Oregonian2 on 5/23/2007 1:54:30 PM , Rating: 2
I've noted that there are exceptions in the RoHS rules and those rules are used by a fair number of semiconductor manufacturers on many parts. I'm one who uses those parts in designs, not the designer of the parts -- but I've noted that in some packages it seems that a bit of lead is needed (having to do with the bonding I think). I've read some of the details but not being my thing, I don't recall more than the lead being needed as mentioned above. May not be a lead-tin sort of solder, may have to do with just being lead (which by itself has a fairly high melting point) and maybe something else. Lead being soft, perhaps it has to do with prevention of cracks . But it's something that they (semiconductor companies) have been trying to "fix" so that they can get rid of the lead so they don't need to use that RoHS exception clause -- but it's taking time, and it seems Intel is getting there.

Some have posted sarcastic comments about the press releases being dirty lousy fluff meant to sound good for purely promotional reasons. But to those folk (not you masher2), let me say that such things are important to circuit designers (such as myself) who need to make their product RoHS compliant and as lead free as possible. It's significant and important to people like me.

RE: California in my mind .......
By aos007 on 5/23/2007 2:11:50 PM , Rating: 2
I think you're probably right about softness of lead. The most famous problem is of course the Xbox360 high failure rate which is regularly attributed to worse properties of lead free solder - specifically its rigidity. But as you mentioned, whatever you think about lead, you must comply with the law (or exclude a large customer base). I recall reading about the EU law and the consequences if you don't comply are onerous (read: jail time). And being a small business and claiming ignorance or small quantities or hobbyist or even being a foreigner does not absolve you. Even if you don't live in EU you'll end up traveling there sooner or later. And there's extradition too. Sure, they may not bother with small fry but you never know.

RE: California in my mind .......
By TomZ on 5/23/2007 2:45:42 PM , Rating: 1
LOL, I think you are too worried about the EU RoHS police. :o) Hardly such a serious concern, especially for low-volume and hobbyist kind of stuff. RoHS is mainly a worry for high volume and/or consumer electronics. Certification isn't even required for low-volume industrial equipment.

By Oregonian2 on 5/23/2007 7:11:17 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, it's not about police as such, it's being able to sell products in Europe, and being RoHS compliant is one of those rules.

But it's also more than that as well, things will need to be RoHS compliant in the U.S. at some point too, writing is on the wall. Parts suppliers have been massively going over to RoHS compliance over the last few years. Some still don't, not 100% of the way there yet, but it'll probably be 100% within a few years (except probably for some legacy products where it'll get dropped before conversion).

By crystal clear on 5/23/2007 2:44:09 PM , Rating: 2
The real reason was electrical and manufacturing benefits.

I read through the Intel press release-
Its all about "environmental sustainability" etc
They talk about the Intel sauce blah blah etc.
No other benefits like you say etc

RE: California in my mind .......
By Alpha4 on 5/27/2007 11:53:24 PM , Rating: 2
I'm inclined to believe this because Intel did not overtly announce the change in manufacturing process; It had to be indicated by Chipworks, a completely unassociated company. I suspect Intel simply chimed in to put a positive spin on it and build their rapport.

"If you mod me down, I will become more insightful than you can possibly imagine." -- Slashdot
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