The chip giant produces its first preproduction chips on 300-millimeter wafers, a technology shift that will lead to cheaper processors by 2002.
The shift to 300-millimeter wafers will be one of many major changes for the semiconductor industry over the next two years. The 300-millimeter, or 12-inch, wafers feature a diameter that is 50 percent longer than that on the 200-millimeter wafers used to produce chips today. Increasing the diameter 50 percent leads to a 225 percent increase in the wafer's surface area.
This, in turn, leads to a drastic reduction in production costs because the same number of employees and factories can churn out many more processors in a comparable amount of time.
Despite an industry downturn, Intel has not reduced its capital spending budget of $7.5 billion for the year, in part to accommodate the introduction of 300-millimeter wafer production.
Chips produced on the new wafers will also be made with the more advanced 0.13-micron manufacturing process and contain copper wires. Intel currently makes its chips with the 0.18-micron manufacturing process and uses aluminum. The micron measurements refer to the size of features on the chip. The shift will result in smaller, cooler, faster and cheaper processors.
"Intel expects chips produced on 300-millimeter wafers to cost 30 percent less than those made using the smaller wafers," Tom Garrett, Intel's 300-millimeter program manager, said in a statement. "By shrinking the circuit lines to 0.13 microns and increasing the wafer size to 300 millimeters, we are able to quadruple the output of a standard factory operating today."
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. has already produced chips on 300-millimeter wafers, but these chips are built on the 0.18-micron process. TSMC has signed agreements to manufacture processors on behalf of Intel competitors Via Technologies and Transmeta. However, TSMC also works with Intel and makes many of Intel's communications chips.
Intel's new chips were created at Intel's D1C test production facility in Hillsboro, Ore. The first chips made on the 0.13-micron manufacturing process will appear commercially in the second half of this year. These chips will come from 200-millimeter wafers.
Commercial production of chips from 300-millimeter wafers is expected in early 2002.