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IBM: It takes a consortium to build 22-nanometer chips

Big Blue leads a group of large chip companies that are working to get to 22 nanometers and below.

IBM's research facility in Albany, N.Y., is working toward the ability to build chip features based on 22-nanometer manufacturing technology--and drawing expertise from a diverse group of engineers and scientists.

East Fishkill IBM chip fab
East Fishkill IBM chip fab IBM

When future generations of chips reach feature sizes in the realm of a billionth of a meter, IBM says, it will take a global village of chip companies, including Advanced Micro Devices, Samsung, Singapore-based Chartered Semiconductor, and Germany-based Infineon, to carry out development and manufacturing.

Currently, IBM and its partners are in the initial stages of 45-nanometer production. (Intel is already in commercial production of 45-nanometer processors.) This will be followed by the 32-nanometer generation and then the 22-nanometer one. The latter presents special challenges because radically new manufacturing processes may be needed. The 22-nanometer generation of chips are expected reach the market in three to five years.

"We now have the capability to do full manufacture to 22 nanometer and beyond in a research facility," said Bernard Meyerson, an IBM fellow, vice president, and chief technologist in the Systems & Technology Group. This will allow IBM and its partners to build "bleeding edge" chip features very early in the process, Meyerson said.

Cooperation keeps members--like AMD and Chartered--competitive with a chip juggernaut like Intel. "We practice an ecosystem strategy. We behave and act as one team. It's not unusual to have an AMD team member leading one team...and Chartered to be leading another," he said. The basic formula is to bring the best and brightest to the United States and headquarter them at IBM's facilities at Yorktown, Fishkill, and Albany, Meyerson said.

In the more immediate future, IBM is also providing AMD (for a considerable fee, of course) with know-how for AMD's 45-nanometer generation of processors that were showcased at CeBit. These processors are due out in the second half of this year. AMD's chips use technologies such as immersion lithography and strained silicon, both developed jointly with IBM.

IBM added Hitachi to its list of collaborators on Monday when the two companies announced a two-year joint semiconductor research agreement in order to speed the pace of semiconductor innovation. The agreement marks the first time Hitachi and IBM have collaborated on semiconductor technology.