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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 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).

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997
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