AMD and IBM promise more performance for 45 nm processors

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

San Francisco (CA) - AMD and IBM presented first details of its 45 nm production process at the International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM) today. While practical data for the consumer remains scarce, the two companies indicated that their production approach will bring performance improvements of about 15%.

Just about every two years, we are seeing a new process production process that pays tribute to Moore's Law. And if you just got used to hearing about 65 nm processors (which were introduced in December 2005), we have to tell you that 45 nm will be the big story starting in about half a year.

Intel has been in the lead consistently when it comes to new production processes, but the company will see some increased pressure from AMD starting with the 45 nm generation. The first 65 nm processors were announced earlier this month, which means that AMD is currently trailing its rival by about a year; however AMD has put in place an aggressive transition to 45 nm, which is expected happen by mid-2008 or just about six months after Intel's first 45 nm processors ("Penryn" core).

Intel has demonstrated a first functional 45 nm SRAM cell, the technologically which is typically first developed on a new production process, earlier this year. AMD has not yet announced the completion of such a product, but was able to provide a few details about its production process. According to papers presented at the IEDM, AMD will use ultra-low-K interconnect dielectrics, which are expected to help reduce interconnect capacitance and wiring delay. The company promises that the material will lower power consumption and increase microprocessor performance. As it appears, first SRAM prototype cells point to a speed increase of about 15%.

AMD said that it will continue to use deep ultraviolet lithography (DUV) techniques to print circuits on its processors. Specifically, the 45 nm generation will be manufactured using 193 nm immersion lithography. Compared to previous lithography generations, AMD has developed in cooperation with IBM a technique that uses a transparent "liquid," instead of regular water, to fill the space between the projection lens of the step-and-repeat lithography system and the wafer.

Lithography has moved into a remarkable phase of innovation over the past decade. DUV, which uses 193 nm light sources, has been in place since 1995, but was believed to run out of steam by 2003 or 2004. Back in 1997, Intel, Motorola and AMD created the EUV Limited Liability Corporation to develop an extreme ultraviolet process (EUV) to replace DUV at the 100 nm production level. Current estimates believe that DUV can be enhanced with lens materials and fluids to master even 32 nm structures. Beyond that, it appears that things are still somewhat uncertain. For example, Intel's lithography roadmap currently states 193 nm lithography can be enhanced and applied to 32 nm chips and even to 22 nm devices, which are scheduled to arrive late in 2011. However, there is little doubt that DUV will be obsolete after that: An expensive to a new printing draws closer and, at this time, Intel engineers believe that EUV or a completely new method may be necessary for 16 nm processors in 2013.