RealTime IT News

IBM to Offer 32nm Manufacturing to All in 2009

Fabless semiconductor vendors will be able to avail themselves to cutting-edge 32-nanometer manufacturing and high-k/metal gate composition with the announcement of a new service from IBM.

Big Blue's service, which will be available in 2009, will provide fabless vendors with a chipmaking process similar to that adopted by IBM and Intel to further shrink transistor sizes.

Intel went to the high-k metal gate process for its new Penryn chips, which began shipping last month. IBM, which announced its own breakthrough in the design process using hafnium oxide instead of silicon oxide at the same time as Intel, decided to use high-k/metal gate only for its own semiconductors, the POWER line.

However, IBM decided to open up the new 32nm process to all customers, starting with its chip development partners -- AMD, Chartered Semiconductor, Freescale, Infineon and Samsung.

"For the foundry marketplace, we believe 32nm is the right point to open it to broad foundry usage," Gary Patton, vice president of IBM's Semiconductor Research and Development Center told InternetNews.com. "At 45nm, you can reach reasonable power performance targets without high-k/metal gate. At 32nm, the issues of scaling become so significant you can't do it. Power usage at 32 would be unacceptable."

He said that for PCs up to supercomputers, the power loss through leakage is tolerable in a 45nm processor that doesn't use the technology. But at 32nm, a processor in a low-power device like a smart phone would lose so much that it would be a drain on the battery.

Consequently, 32nm is the ideal point to introduce the high-k metal gate process, Patton said.

Using high-k/metal gate, IBM estimates it can shrink the size of a chip by up to 50 percent over a 45nm chip, reduce power consumption by 45 percent and improve performance by up to 30 percent, depending on the application.

AMD spokesman Gary Silcott said the new manufacturing process will keep AMD on track with its future plans.

"We can do things like Fusion because it allows us to continue to add more transistors onto a single piece of silicon without greatly increasing the area, which means your relative cost stays the same without increasing power consumption," he said.

IBM's Patton said the long lead also gives the company and its partners time to get their manufacturing facilities ready. Converting to 32nm and a new manufacturing process isn't exactly like switching the lamps in your house to a compact fluorescent light bulb.

"To get it out in the broad marketplace, we need to get design engagements going now for when we are ready to ramp in the second half of 2009," he said.

Semiconductor analyst Nathan Brookwood, research fellow with Insight64, said that while Intel made more headlines with its high-k/metal gate breakthrough, IBM's processor has slightly better results due to a different approach in manufacturing.

He also said AMD can get by without using high-k/metal gate in its 45nm process for now.

"High-k/metal gate is nice, but there are multiple ways to skin the cat," he told InternetNews.com. "In the case of AMD, because of the work they and IBM are doing, their 45nm process without high-k metal gate won't be that different in terms of performance characteristics as Intel's with high-k metal gate."