Chips on Verge of Reaching 32 nm Nodes
Attendees at the International Solid-State Circuit Conference in San Francisco this week got a peek at the next generation of microprocessors, to be produced with 32 nanometer process technology that's arriving right on schedule. Intel, which is targeting a late 2009 release for its Westmere chips (the 32 nm successor in the Nehalem microarchitecture), demonstrated what it said was the first working 32 nm-based microprocessor for mainstream mobile and desktop systems. The release schedule conforms to the industry's target of increasing the number of transistors on chips every two years, the key principle of Moore's law. SanDisk is also entering the 32 nm market, announcing its plans for 32 nm NAND flash memory chips at 3 bits per cell.
Intelwill also invest roughly $7 billion in new US factories to produce the chips, the company's biggest manufacturing expansion to date.
"We're investing in America to keep Intel and our nation at the forefront of innovation," said Intel chief executive officer Paul Otellini. "These manufacturing facilities will produce the most advanced computing technology in the world. The capabilities of our 32nm factories are truly extraordinary, and the chips they produce will become the basic building blocks of the digital world, generating economic returns far beyond our industry."
The 32 nm process is the next step following 45 nm—referring to the distance (pitch) between circuitry on microprocessors—and continues the use of high-k metal gate transistors introduced by Intel in 2007. According to the company's white paper on the technology, its second-generation transistors contain several improvements.
"The equivalent oxide thickness of the high-k dielectric has been reduced from 1.0 nm on 45 nm to 0.9 nm on the 32nm process, while gate length has been reduced to 30 nm," Intel stated. "Transistor gate pitch continues to scale 0.7x every two years—with 32 nm providing the tightest gate pitch in the industry."
While the advancement to 32 nm technology was expected, Intel surprised many observers with several new developments for its Westmere series. The processors will include integrated graphics and a 4 Mbyte integrated memory controller, the first time the main processor has included such features on the same piece of silicon, according to Information Week. Intel also plans to roll out the mainstream processors before its high-end versions. The dual-core four-thread chips, codenamed Clarkdale (CPU) and Arrandale (system on chip), are due out in the fourth quarter of 2009, while the six-core eight-thread Gulftown won’t appear until 2010.
SanDisk is also targeting late 2009 for its 32 nm flash memory chips, which are being developed in collaboration with Toshiba. This technology further develops multilevel cells, which reached 3 bits per cell with 56 nm chips when SanDisk introduced them in 2007. In addition to the smaller nodes, SanDisk plans to introduce 43 nm chips at 4 bits per cell.
Other companies are certain to follow Intel and SanDisk into the 32 nm process. IBM announced a partnership with Samsung and Chartered in September 2008 to develop 32 nm chips as part of the Common Platform initiative, and AMD announced plans for 32 nm nodes in November 2008.
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