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Intel preps 32nm chip launch by year's end

Posted: 16 Sep 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Intel 32nm? high-k metal gate? transistor?

The latest Intel Corp. briefing had Senior Fellow Mark Bohr present highlights of the company's latest process technology.

Besides Bohr, an Intel engineer who has been there through the transition from metal to poly gates and back again, the briefing also included Sanjay Natarajan the chip giant's 32nm program manager charged with keeping the node rolling ahead of schedule.

The briefing provided some news in advance of the 2009 Intel Developer Forum (IDF) beginning Sept. 22. The company may launch or at least disclose the launch date for the first chips from the Westmere 32nm family of processors at the IDF.

Intel's PR team had two more reasons for holding analyst calls last week. One was to announce two papers that will be presented at IEDM in December. The second, but more significant, is that 32nm production wafers are now moving through Intel's D1D fab in Oregon.

The wafers are said to be "in support of planned Q4 revenue production." If you take that at face value, then Intel should be shipping 32nm processors to customers before the end of the year. However, none of Intel representatives were willing to commit to that deadline despite widespread assumptions that they will.

One IEDM paper describes the 32nm process, which is Intel's second generation of high-k metal gate (HKMG) technology. Paul Packan will present "32nm Technology for High Performance CPUs." Natarajan said Intel's presentation will provide more process details than past conference papers.

For now, Intel has improved NMOS drive current by 19 percent and PMOS by a whopping 28 percent compared to the 45nm node. As Bohr pointed out, designers have desired balanced NMOS and PMOS performance ever since Intel rolled out its first CMOS process in 1981. Perhaps, as he said, we are getting closer to that dream.

Intel process engineers also boosted 32nm PMOS transistors saturation currents closer to NMOS by virtue of the fact that, as Sanjay put it, "There are more knobs to turn in the PMOS process flow." Since embedded SiGe source/drains strain the PMOS channels to enhance hole mobility, in addition to using stress liners deposited after the gates, the PMOS devices employ additional strain enhancement techniques compared to NMOS transistors. Bohr reminded that the replacement gate flow used by Intel also benefits PMOS transistor performance.

Jumps in drive currentespecially the PMOSare a big achievement, but Intel also wants to get the word out about the leakage performance of their 32nm transistors. Record-breaking saturation current is nothing new for Intel, but they can now add the best reported leakage to their list of achievements. The design flexibility of trading off leakage for drive current has been part of Intel presentations for some time.

The range of transistor performance matching application has been growing as technology nodes shrink. Intel also said its yield ramps are getting faster at each node.

Perhaps the biggest news surrounding Intel's 32nm process is the introduction of immersion lithography. The new tools are used on critical layers up to metal three to provide Intel with another best: the smallest contacted gate pitch of 112.5nm.

Even 28nm processes in the literature cannot top that dimension.

The second IEDM paper describes the 32nm SoC process. The transistor performance range offered in the new process provides several advantages for non-CPU applications, which could well be the real story of the Intel 32nm process.

- EE Times

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