Starting in the fourth quarter, Intel will begin to deliver the Pentium II processor in a new package that will allow it to push chip speeds to 500 MHz and beyond.
The plastic Pentium II cartridge--slightly smaller and thinner than a cassette tape case--used inside computers today will become smaller with the new design, according to an Intel spokesman. Most of the changes, however, are not cosmetic but substantive internal modifications that affect the chip's performance.
The company is changing packaging materials as well as altering how and where the different microcomponents surrounding the Pentium II attach to each other. In the end, the chip will still be based around the "Slot 1" design of Pentium II chips today, but it will be more efficient because it will increase the flow of electricity to the processor.
The new cartridge, which is called the SECC 2 for "Single Edge Contact Cartridge," also will likely lead to a cost reduction for Intel. "That's the magic of semiconductors. Things get better and cheaper," said Nathan Brookwood, semiconductor analyst at Dataquest.
Packaging technology has a strong effect on overall chip performance because it influences both heat dissipation and the amount of electricity that can flow through a processor. By improving dissipation and increasing conductivity, chipmakers can increase speeds and prevent failures.
Intel will be making essentially two changes to the Pentium II package.
First, it is altering the package that surrounds the chip "die." (The die consists of the bare circuits.) Intel will no longer use the Plastic Land Grid Array (PLGA) package to wrap the chip. Instead, the chip will come wrapped in the Organic Land Grid Array (OLGA), an organic substrate interspersed with copper.
OLGA's advantage comes in the copper. PLGA packages are plastic. Electrical connections to the chip are only made on one the side of the chip. With OLGA, the back of the package can conduct electricity, which means a greater electrical flow to the processor. Intel now uses OLGA packaging on mobile Pentium IIs, but not on its desktop versions.
Second, OLGA's metallic characteristics allow removal of the thermal plate attached to the Pentium II. Currently, Intel attaches a metal plate and a thermal plate to the back of the Pentium II's housing. In turn, the thermal plate attaches to a large heat sink, which draws heat away from the chip. With OLGA, the thermal plate is no longer needed. In fact, the size of the heat sink can be reduced.
"OLGA gives you better electrical performance," Intel's spokesman said. "This will allow us to get to 500 MHz and beyond." (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)
The company will use the new packaging on 350-MHz processors, as well as its faster chips. These new processors will start to roll out over the fourth quarter of the year and the first quarter of next year.
Although it uses copper, OLGA packaging is not synonymous with the manufacturing trend that uses the metal in processor circuitry. Chips with copper interconnects are expected from IBM in the near future. Intel will move to copper interconnect chips when it shifts to the 0.13-micron manufacturing process in 2001 or 2002, according to various sources.