Yorktown Heights (NY) – IBM and its chip development partners made a stunning announcement today, apparently beating Intel in the successful production of the first functional 22 nm SRAM cell. 22 nm processors are still three years out in the future, but IBM’s news is a good sign that chip manufacturer will be able to easily scale to this new level by the end of 2011. It appears that, for the first time in several decades, Intel may have to put some extra time into its research and development efforts to make sure it can keep its manufacturing lead at 22 nm and beyond. But then, Intel has a different opinion what this announcement really means.
SRAM chips are typically the first semiconductor devices to test a new manufacturing process as a precursor to actual microprocessors. The devices developed and manufactured by AMD, Freescale, IBM STMicroelectronics, Toshiba and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) were built in a traditional six-transistor design on a 300 mm wafer and had a memory cell size of just 0.1 μm2, which compares to Intel’s 45 nm SRAM cell size (the test chip that was used for today’s 45 nm processors) of 0.346 μm2.
A 22 nm chip is two generations out in the future and AMD even has to catch up with Intel’s 45 nm. Intel presented the first 32 nm SRAM cell wafer in September of last year and in fact is not expected to show 22 nm SRAM cells for at least another year, while first 32 nm CPU prototypes could be shown at IDF this week.
IBM said that it is on track with its 32 nm process and promises that it will use a “leading 32 nm high-K metal gate technology that no other company or consortium can match.” IBM did not provide further details to substantiate this claim, however, Intel has been using its high-K metal gate technology since the introduction of the 45 nm Penryn processors in late 2007.
While we are far from actual 22 nm and 32 nm products, it is clear that IBM and its partners are turning up the heat on Intel. For the first time in decades, there could actually be an interesting race towards a new production node.
Update August 19, 10:50 am EDT: Intel spokesman Nick Knupffer provided us with Intel's view on this announcement. Not surprisingly, Intel has a different opinion:
"Indeed, this is the smallest SRAM cell that has been demonstrated, but producing a single cell is merely an exercise in lithography scaling. The announcement admits that they only have demonstrated a 22 nm SRAM 'cell', not a 22 nm SRAM 'array' of any given density. A single SRAM cell has 6 transistors in it. Intel's 32 nm SRAM array, which we announced back in September, has 290 million cells or bits, and a total of 1.9 billion transistors. IBM has yet to report a large working 32 nm SRAM array as Intel did last September. Intel's 32 nm technology will use our 2nd generation of high-k + metal gate transistors."