IBM has joined other tech giants to help develop a new
chipmaking technology that will allow production of computer processors
many times more powerful than current models.
The company announced Monday that it has joined EUV LLC, a consortium of
companies and government labs developing machines and procedures for
Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography.
IBM is the last of the major chipmakers to throw in with EUV. Intel,
Advanced Micro Devices, Motorola, Micron Technologies, Infineon and the
federal Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories are each
also part of EUV LLC.
By putting its significant weight behind EUV, IBM helps validate the
technology, which most analysts say will become the main chipmaking
method of the future. But IBM executives say the company is taking a
more cautious approach.
"Our main reason for joining is that we would inevitably have to have a
next-generation lithography technology on our roadmap," said George
Gomba, senior manager of lithography technology at IBM Microelectronics
Division. "Now's the right time to get involved."
However, IBM plans to continue a dual development path, investing in
both EUV and another lithography technology, called electron beam
projection. Electron beam lithography uses a stream of electrons,
instead of light, to deposit an image of a chip feature on a silicon
"This (EUV) is one we must invest in," Gomba said. "But it's too early
to pick who is the winner."
Lithography is the process of drawing circuits on silicon wafers during
chip manufacturing. It is a vital part of the process, because by
drawing the circuits, the manufacturer sets the stage for each layer of
what will become a competed chip.
Next-generation lithography technologies such as EUV are required to
keep allow chipmakers to print ever smaller features on processors.
Smaller features mean more transistors--and thus more processing
power--can be crammed onto a chip.
Without advances in the current lithography technology, chip making
would grind to a halt by about 2005, at which time chip designs would be
too small to be manufactured with current equipment.
The EUV LLC expects EUV technology to be able to yield chips that run at
speeds of up to 10GHz with features as small as 30 nanometers. Today's
chips, which will hit 2GHz in the second half of the year, are
manufactured at 180 nanometer sizes. EUV is expected to debut in 2005
when chips hit the 70 nanometer level.
While IBM Microelectronics is giving a nod to EUV, the chipmaker
continues to support electron beam lithography, the technology seen as
the primary competitor to EUV, through a joint venture with Nikon.
IBM and Nikon recently detailed breakthroughs achieved with the
manufacturing tools that will go into the electron beam lithography
process, dubbed Prevail. Prevail is now approaching the alpha stage,
where the first chip manufacturing equipment will be assembled, tested
and eventually shipped to customers for testing, Hans Pfiffer, manager
of electron beam technology for IBM Microelectronics' Semiconductor
Research and Development Center, said in a recent interview.
The first Prevail alpha chip making equipment should appear in early
2003, which is about the time when EUV equipment will begin beta
IBM Microelectronics believes the two technologies, seen as competitors
by most in the industry, can be complimentary.
Pfiffer said that IBM will use electron beam and EUV in a "mix and
match" chipmaking process, where EUV will be used to draw processor
features in broad strokes but electron beam will be used to draw finer,
more important features.
However, because electron beam can only cover a small area at one time,
the tradeoff between it and EUV will be that of achieving resolution
while sacrificing manufacturing speed.
"I think this is a further indication of the growing momentum to support
EUV lithography," said Chuck Gwyn, general manager of EUV LLC. "We
continue to look for industry support?so the more members we have the
more support there is the project and the technology."
Gwyn isn't worried about electron beam projection lithography stealing
"We mix and match lithography in fabs (chip manufacturing plants) today,
so it wouldn't surprise me to see that in the future you find the use of
EUV" alongside electron beam lithography and current processes, he said.