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Applied's science: Building tinier chips

Applied Materials' new chipmaking system adds material in layers one atom at a time, paving the way to the creation of 65-nanometer semiconductors.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
2 min read
Applied Materials is harnessing the atom to build better chips.

The manufacturer of chipmaking equipment said Monday that its latest product will incorporate a technique called atomic layer deposition, which creates chips atom by atom.

The new equipment, named the Endura Integrated Cu Barrier/Seed system, will add materials in layers one atom at a time during the manufacturing process.

Depositing materials in such a way will be a requirement in building future chips with 65-nanometer features, the company said. These chips will call for extreme attention to detail when important structures such as transistors are being formed. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

Applied Materials says the Endura system will meet the requirements to deposit exceptionally thin layers of materials in an accurate and repeatable fashion.

Currently, the fastest chips are made with the 130-nanometer process, which means that circuits inside the chip measure about 130 nanometers wide. By shrinking the average feature size to 65 nanometers, companies can cut the size of the processors or, more likely, add more features to chips because they will be able to increase the number of transistors in the same area.

Examples of 130-nanometer chips include Intel's Pentium 4 or Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon XP.

The ability to decrease the size of features in current chips to 65 nanometers will allow manufacturers to increase the number of transistors in chip by 20 times, potentially boosting performance by five times, Applied Materials said.

Ultimately, the Endura system will help chipmakers mass-produce chips on the 65-nanometer level or even smaller.

The Endura system is Applied Materials' third product to incorporate atomic layer deposition. It has been selling two such machines for other steps in the chip-manufacturing process since last year.