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Xilinx nears 90-nanometer finish line

The chipmaker has started shipping its first new 90-nanometer chips in small quantities, making it one of the first few companies to approach mass production.

Xilinx has 90-nanometer chips in hand.

The chipmaker said on Monday that it has begun shipping its first new 90-nanometer field programmable gate array (FPGA) chips in small quantities. Xilinx is one of the first few chipmakers to start down the road toward the chipmaking milestone--mass production of the 90-nanometer chip.

Xilinx appears to be on track to mass producing the new programmable chips, which are often used in markets such as communications, where device standards aren?t finalized yet. Programmable chips are more flexible than other chips--such as purpose-built chips--because companies can program them to do specific tasks.

Last December, the company and manufacturing partner IBM said it would ship test versions of the chip during the first quarter of 2003, and begin mass production in the second half of 2003.

Moving to a smaller nanometer chipmaking process--such as from 130- to 90-nanometers as IBM is doing for Xilinx--produces smaller transistors and that are closer together inside a chip. This in turn allows manufacturers to put more transistors on a chip, boosting performance. The nanometer measurement refers to the average size of features inside chips, such as transistors and the interconnects that link them. A distance of 90 nanometers is about a thousandth of the width of a human hair.

The move to 90 nanometers will help Xilinx offer a new line of smaller, less expensive FPGA chips, which will cost less than $25 when they are available to companies, such as network gear makers, in large quantities of 250,000 or more next year, the company said.

Xilinx will become the first 90-nanometer customer for IBM, which is Xilinx main chip manufacturer.

The transition to a 90-nanometer process is a major undertaking for IBM, which spent about $2.5 billion to build its newest manufacturing plant, in East Fishkill, N.Y. That plant is expected to begin turning out large volumes of 90-nanometer chips during the second half of 2003.

The company also uses United Microelectronics Corp. to produce its 90-nanometer chips.

Xilinx isn?t the fist chipmaker to make it to this stage. Intel unveiled its first 90-nanometer test chips in March 2002.

Intel is expected to deliver its first 90-nanometer Pentium chip for PCs, dubbed Prescott, during the second half of this year.