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"Improved Semiconductor Process can make CPUs Up To 10GHz"
  01/15/2001

By using the extreme ultraviolet lithography process developed by EUV LLC, the
ever-changing semiconductor industry has created a manufacturing process that should pave
the way for CPUs capable of reaching speeds in excess of 10GHz. The EUV LLC is a
research group made up of industry giants Intel, AMD, Infineon Technologies, Micron
Technology and includes researchers from the Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National
Laboratories.

The new processes should keep the industry on pace with Moore's Law, developed by Intel
co-founder Gordon Moore, that states the number of transistors a chip can hold will double
every 18 to 24 months. The increased number of transistors will lead to a corresponding
performance increase in the chip.

The new process is particularly important, as it appears that the older technique, known
as deep ultraviolet, will produce only one or two more generations of chips. The process
is vital to the computing industry, and more specifically, chipmakers such as Intel and
AMD. Without a new process, manufacturers of chips would be unable to produce anything
faster after 2004, an estimated time when the current process will reach its limits.

The first attempt at a piece of equipment is known as the EUV engineering test stand,
which is the first piece of test equipment and will be tested for the next several months.
After beginning testing has completed, it will be given a final test to print images on
silicon wafers as would be required in a manufacturing environment. The fastest PC
processors today are a little over 1GHz, while this device may produce chips upwards of
10GHz.

There is an approximate timeline that is beginning to take shape. Testing should be
completed in 2002 and the first version of manufacturing tools should begin to be seen in
late 2003. Final production equipment should be available in 2005, after the first
machines have had time to be tested.

The EUV LLC is working with industry equipment manufacturers in hopes that this will
shorten the time between testing and actual manufacturing equipment being developed. It
is developed relationships with companies such as the Silicon Valley Group and ASM
Lithography Holdings. The first production equipment will be slated to create chips at
about 70 nanometers, which is approximately a thousand times smaller than the width of a
human hair. The chips in current computers are manufactured at more than double the size
(180 nanometers).

The EUV LLC may be the front-runner among competing next-generation-manufacturing
processes, but itís not the only option. Another technology under development by a number
of companies is known as electron beam lithography. The e-beam technology, headed by IBM,
works much differently than the EUV process. Instead of drawing an entire layer of a chip
with one swipe like the EUV process, the e-beam utilizes a beam of electrons to draw
individual transistors on a chip, and is a much slower process.

  - by Clayton Crooks

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