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Did Intel buy EUVs from ASML Holdings?

Posted: 28 Apr 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Ultraviolet lithography?

When news of ASML Holdings selling 15 extreme ultraviolet lithography systems to a U.S. customer came out, many analysts thought the buyer was no other than Intel, but the terms of the deal and what it says about the readiness of EUV for making semiconductors remains unclear.

Although in the works for decades, EUV lithography has so far failed to deliver the kind of throughput needed to make leading-edge chips due to a relatively weak light source. The company announced several improvements to the system along the way, but the latest results were still below production targets.

Just last fall, Intel Fellow Mark Bohr said EUV is "not ready yetthe throughput and reliability are not there," he said speaking at the annual Intel Developer Forum.

At that event, Bohr said Intel sees a way to make 7nm chips cost effectively without EUV. Earlier he had said the same about 10nm although the company has not revealed details on either process node yet.

Sources agree Intel is the existing U.S. customer that ASML referred to as the buyer in a press release. However, one analyst speculates that it is a long-term deal in which 10 of the 15 systems will not be delivered until 2017 or later. The analyst, who asked not to be named, suggested the deal is an effort by Intel to pump up the stock price of ASML in which it holds a 15 per cent stake.

Others took a more upbeat view. "It is far too late for Intel to use EUV at 10nm, but the timing seems reasonable for 7nm," said David Kanter of Real World Technologies.

"This is a big vote of confidence for ASML, as the size of the order indicates that EUV will be going into high volume production; previous purchases had been for one or two machines, for experimental purposes," Kanter said. "Intel buying into EUV may catalyse logic competitors such as Samsung, Globalfoundries and TSMC to upgrade in the relatively near future," he added.

However, Kanter cautioned the sale could be contingent upon EUV meeting performance targets. In addition, it's not clear EUV can meet more stringent cost targets of memory makers, he added.

Earlier this year, TSMC announced it exposed 1,000 wafers in 24 hours on an ASML NXE:3300B equipped with an 80W light source. The company is expected to use EUV at the 7nm node and try to retrofit it into its10nm process sometime after 10nm production starts. The new EUV deal suggests Intel may have similar plans.

There's no doubt EUV is the industry's leading candidate to avoid the costly process of using multiple patterning steps with today's 193nm immersion litho systems. However, in addition to issues with its light source, EUV still faces hurdles discussed in a March meeting in areas such as resists, mask inspection and density, and a pellicle for easier handling.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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