The performance and cost of processors is closely related to the integrated circuit process technology used to create and manufacture it, according to the Microprocessor Report which has examined vendors’ process technology to determine the likely availability, clock speed, voltage and cost of future products. As vendors shrink the size of the transistors used on […]
The performance and cost of processors is closely related to the integrated circuit process technology used to create and manufacture it, according to the Microprocessor Report which has examined vendors’ process technology to determine the likely availability, clock speed, voltage and cost of future products. As vendors shrink the size of the transistors used on the processor – IBM Corp, Intel Corp and NEC Corp have already breached 0.35 microns – lower voltages must be used across the circuits to avoid burning out oxide layers that would cause the transistors to fail. Also, because vendors are reaching the point at which the wavelength of ultraviolet light used by the i-line steppers (which print the resist with a pattern then etched onto the chip itself) is approaching the size of the features being patterned, vendors are gradually switching over to the use of deep ultraviolet light, which has a shorter wavelength and eliminates the problem, at least for now. Other techniques, such as chemical-mechanical polishing are also adding to process costs, but allow for the creation of parts with more than three metal layers. Intel’s p854 is an 0.35 micron BiCMOS, four-layer metal process used for Pentium P54CS that runs off 3.3V. The P55C, expected in the first quarter of next year, will use an 0.28 micron all-CMOS version of the process (all the processes discussed below are full CMOS implementations) running at 2.5V. IBM’s 0.44 micron CMOS-5S, four and five layer metal, 3.3V process is being used for the PowerPC 620. CMOS-5X delivered the 0.33 micron, five-layer metal PowerPC 601+ at 2.5V. IBM will move 603, 604 and 620 to this process in the first half of next year, nearly a year after it was introduced. The Report says it does not know why IBM is not moving the chips to this advanced process sooner, although IBM denies having capacity constraints at 0.35 microns. The CMOS-6S will provide a 0.27 micron, five metal-layer PowerPC 604+ by mid-1996 at 2.5V. Texas Instruments Inc’s three and four layer metal EPIC-3 process is used for the 0.47 micron UltraSparc at 3.3V and the 0.42 micron TI486DX4. The four and five layer metal EPIC-4 will be used for the 0.29 micron UltraSparc II running off 2.5V by mid-1996. Microprocessor Report expects Texas Instruments to move this process quickly (by the end of next year) to 0.25 microns.
Digital Equipment Corp’s CMOS-6 process will deliver 0.33 micron, three and four layer metal 21164A Alphas in the first quarter of next year and run off 2.5V. The three-layer ‘StrongArm’ chips could reach 400MHz using this process, Microprocessor Report believes. DEC’s CMOS-6 process will create 0.33 micron four and five layer metal parts running at 2.5V. Fujitsu Ltd’s CS-55 process has been used for HaL Computer Systems Inc’s 0.4 micron Sparc64, a three and four layer metal part at 3.3V. The CS-60ALE should deliver 0.35 micron, three to five layer metal parts in the first quarter of next year drawing 3.3V. Fujitsu also makes microSparc and HyperSparc. Integrated Device Technology Inc’s CEMOS 8+ process created the 0.3 micron R4400-200, a three-layer metal 3.3V processor; it plans to move to CEMOS 9, a 0.25 micron process early next year. NEC’s 0.35 micron process created its R4400-200, a three to five layer metal part at 3.3V. Both NEC and Toshiba Corp will build the R10000 using this process. New techniques will make it increasingly more expensive to stay in the game, which is why some vendors have banded together to produce parts, including Advanced Micro Devices Inc and Hewlett-Packard and Hitachi Ltd and VLSI Research Inc, Microprocessor Report said. However, Hewlett-Packard, which was nearly two years behind in the race to 0.5 microns, may now turn to partner Intel for production of its future processors, the newsletter believes. Hitachi and VLSI are able to stay competitive, even though they trail in 0.35 micron implementations, because they are designing for the embedded market, not for leading-edge performance. Intel and IBM will pace-set process investment, the Mic
roprocessor Report believes.