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AMD taps low-k dielectrics for 45nm chips

Posted: 07 Mar 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:45nm processor? AMD 45nm chip? immersion lithography?

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. has started shipping samples of its first 45nm processors and is on track to start production in the second half of the year.

The company plans to initially release two quad-core processorsa server chip codenamed Shanghai and a desktop processor dubbed Deneb.

The latest manufacturing process shrinks the size of transistors, so hundreds of millions more can be placed on chips. As a result the processors are more powerful and power efficient. The key technology enhancement in Shanghai and Deneb is related to a technique called immersion lithography, which enables AMD to make the drawing of the pattern on the chip a one-step process, instead of the two-step process of more conventional methods, said Bill En, manager of logic technology development at AMD. The pattern on chips maps the location of transistors, wiring and other components.

In addition, the use of immersion lithography is 40 percent more efficient than using conventional lithography, lowering the cost of making the chip. As a result, AMD said it can pass along some of the savings to customers. "That's the expectation," En said. "If it costs us less to make it, then it will be better for our customers."

Low-k dielectrics
The latest chips also contain faster transistors and wire insulation made with a new material called ultra-low-k dielectrics. The material absorbs less energy, so the chips are cooler and are more power efficient, En said. The overall reduction in power consumption is 15 percent, compared to comparable 65nm chips.

By shrinking processors through the 45nm process, AMD is creating more room on the die, which can be used in the future for adding a GPU. Such CPU/GPU integration at the silicon level is what AMD has planned for a new class of x86 processing, called the accelerated processing unit, or APU. Codenamed Fusion, the first APU is set to ship in 2H 08.

Nevertheless, AMD is far behind rival Intel in shipping 45nm chips. Intel started selling such chips for servers and desktops late last year, and released its first 45nm notebook processors in January.

Graphics offering
Along with the chip announcement, AMD launched an integrated graphics chipset the 780G, which replaces the previous 690G. The latter was developed by ATI Technologies, which AMD acquired in 2006, but released under AMD.

The latest chipset, which is embedded in a motherboard, supports Microsoft's latest graphics technology DirectX 10, which is only in Windows Vista. In addition, 780G uses the ATI-developed unified video decoder for boosting processing speeds to handle high-definition movies, eliminating the need for a separate graphics card, Adam Kozak, product manager for AMD chipsets, said.

The chipset is substantially more powerful than the older 690G with 205 million transistors versus 72 million. "It's a huge leap forward," Kozak said. In addition, the latest chipset uses less than a watt of power while in idle mode, which is 40 percent less than the previous chipset.

Other advancements include technology called "hybrid graphics," which means the chipset can work in conjunction with a separate graphics card, boosting the performance of the latter 60 percent, according to Kozak. Older integrated chipsets would automatically shutdown when a separate card was added to the motherboard.

The 780G has been paired with the new SB700, an input/output chip that handles SATA and USB connections to a variety of devices. The SB700 can support up to six SATA connectors and 14 USB connectors, including a dozen that support the USB 2.0 standard.

DisplayPort support
Finally, the 780G supports DisplayPort, a digital display interface standard that defines a digital audio/video interconnect intended to be used between a computer and its display monitor or a home-theater system. Manufacturers are not expected to start shipping computers supporting DisplayPort until the second half of the year, Kozak said.

The 780G is made to run with AMD's Phenom quad-core and triple-core chips and its Athlon dual-core processors. "There are sufficient quantities (of the chipset) available," Kozak said. "This is not a paper launch. There's actual product in the channel." Pricing for the motherboards are expected to range from $80 to $120.

- Antone Gonsalves

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