RealTime IT News

Chipmaker Takes Next Step in 'Nano' Race

Texas Instruments (TI) has become the latest chipmaker to solidify plans to produce chips that are smaller than 90-nanometers (nm) in size.

The Dallas-based firm said it is currently on track to sample a wireless 65-nm Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) processor in the first quarter of 2005, maintaining its two-year cycle between manufacturing technology generations. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.

TI said the new technology will be used on its lineup of 4-megabit SRAM memory test arrays, which is currently in production. The technology is expected to be combined with TI's OMAP processors and TCS cellular chipsets in future mobile devices.

"TI's 65nm CMOS process doubles the transistor density over our qualified 90nm production process and positions us for a leadership role in delivering the benefits of 65nm to customers early next year," TI CTO Hans Stork said in a statement. "Along with the tremendous increase in functionality TI will offer at 65nm with highly- integrated [system on a chip] designs, we are taking significant steps to lead the industry in managing the power those designs consume."

The sub-90 nanometer level is one of the fastest emerging areas in the sector as chipmakers look to cram faster processors into smaller spaces. While the practice is emerging in some microprocessor circles, it is still considered a new brass ring for mainstream CPUs. TI rivals IBM , Intel , AMD and others all have very clear roadmaps for the sub-90nm level mostly in memory production.

For example, chipmaking giant Intel said its 65-nm technology is on a fast track to extend its 15 year record of meeting or beating Moore's Law and churning out a new process generation every two years. In fact, it's been just under a year since Intel said it has achieved a fully functional SRAMs made with the 90-nm process. Likewise, Motorola recently said it would produce transistor sizes of 90-nm by mid-2005 and then switch to 65-nm technology in 2006. IBM has, and is, investing billions in nano. Its latest chip plant in East Fishkill, N.Y., is expected to cost $2.5 billion and enable the company to make chips. The company's efforts eclipse even the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative's recently endowed $600 million budget. With the help of Big Blue, AMD said it will plan on moving to the 90-nm in the first half of 2004 and 65-nm sometime between late 2005 and early 2006, about the same time the company said it plans on transferring its wafer production from 200-mm to 300-mm.

TI said its differentiator is its focus on persistent power problems found in nano-scale chips. For example, for its 65-nm family, TI said it is saving 1000 times the power of comparable chips by including back-biasing of SRAM memory blocks, retention circuitry that lets the voltage to drop very low without requiring a rewrite of the logic, and SmartReflex circuits. The company's 65nm process also includes up to 11 layers of copper interconnect integrated with a low-k dielectric.

The 65nm advances are also a boon to Sun Microsystems, which relies on TI for its processors. Sun said TI's sub-90nm plans will be the foundation to build next generation 64-bit processor designs that support its Throughput Computing initiative and UltraSPARC roadmap.

TI said it is developing the 65-nm technology for both 200mm and 300mm wafers and is scheduled to present a technical paper on the 65nm low power process at the VLSI Symposium in Hawaii in June.