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IBM 'fab club' tips 28nm high-k process

Posted: 20 Apr 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:28nm high-k process? technology metal gate? IBM fab club? foundry industry?

Despite the downturn, the silicon foundry business is heating up as IBM Corp.'s "fab club" has officially rolled out its 28nm process based on high-k dielectrics and metal gates.

The 28nm technology is being defined and co-developed by IBM's common platform partners, including IBM, Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Pte Ltd, GlobalFoundries, Infineon Technologies AG, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd and STMicroelectronics Inc.

The 28nm process, which has been widely anticipated, is said to provide a seamless migration path from the group's 32nm technology. Rolled out last year, the club's 32nm process is based on a "gate-first" high-k and metal-gate technology for use in low-power and related applications. High-k and metal gates are key building blocks for scaling and enabling the next-generation transistor.

The group's 32- and 28nm processes are somewhat similar, although 28nm is a scaled down version. The first derivative for both 32- and 28nm will be a low-power process. Both support 7-to-9 metal layers, 30nm gate lengths, copper-interconnects, ultra low-k, and, of course, a "gate-first" high-k and metal gate scheme. It also makes use of 193nm immersion lithography.

High-k race
Others are also moving full speed ahead in high-k. Since the 45nm node, Intel Corp. has shipped processors based on the technology. On the foundry front, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd and United Microelectronics Corp. are also racing to implement high-k and metal gates in their respective 28nm processes.

Unlike IBM's common platform, TSMC does not plan to deploy high-k and metal gates for the 32nm node; instead, the Taiwan foundry giant will implement the technology at 28nm, which is slated for the first part of 2010.

Gary Patton, VP for IBM's Semiconductor Research and Development Center, dropped hints that the company is ahead in the high-k foundry race. IBM's high-k and metal gate technology for 32nm is still on track and slated for the second half of this year, Patton said.

With little or no fanfare, Patton said the group's 28nm, low-power technology evaluation kit was made available in December of 2008 to early access clients, followed by release in March of 2009 of an evaluation kit for open access to the general marketplace. Early "risk production" for the 28nm technology is anticipated in 2H 10.

So far, the reception for IBM's high-k/metal-gate technology has been overwhelming. "It's progressed very, very well," he said. "The first three (multi-project wafer) shuttle programs were sold out."

Like TSMC and UMC, IBM and its foundry partners will give customers the option to develop designs based on any number of nodes. Foundry customers must carefully look at the various trade-offs, including cost.

A design with high-k makes sense in some but not all applications. Generally, though, the migration towards finer geometries is slowing due to soaring IC design, photomask and production costs.


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