Intel Skipping Over Lithography Tool Generation

Intel Corp. has decided to skip over a generation of lithography tools, which is expected to have a major impact on semiconductor companies committed to 157-nanometer technology.

The two lithography companies expected to be most directly impacted by Intel’s decision are ASML Lithography NV and Nikon of Japan. These and other companies have invested billions to develop 157-nm technology.

Intel said it would jump a generation to 193-nm lithography technology for the 45-nm node coming into production in 2007, instead of using 157-nm tools.

This will be an interim step in Intel road map before it moves to extreme ultraviolet (EUV), or another next-generation lithography (NGL) technology system is successfully commercialized. EUV machines are expected to be able to create finer electronic circuits than the 157 nanometer tools, but it will be several years before the machines reach the market.

Lithography tools are used to project an image of circuits and transistors on silicon wafers. Intel, ASML and others in the chip sector are developing new EUV-based machines. Intel is expected to evaluate EUV machines also from ASML’s rivals, Nikon is developing electron-beam projection lithography and Canon is also involved in creating next generation lithography.

Reports say ASML will continue to develop its 157-nm tools based on its TwinScan architecture for production purposes. The tool is due out sometime in 2004. Back in April, ASML said it would supply a 157-nanometer wavelength step-and-scan tool to the Interuniversities MicroElectronic Center (IMEC), and the company has said it has other orders for its 157-nm tool from other semiconductor companies.

Semiconductor Business News on Friday reported that ASML “remains committed to 157-nm development.”

ASML’s lithography machine is called Micrascan VII, which is a chipmaking pre-production and development system.

Intel is said to have committed substantial research and development
resources to the new EUV technology, and its decision may accelerate
investment in the nascent system.

Intel is hoping to produce chips with circuits as thin as 45 nanometers with the 193 nanometer scanners. If it is able to achieve that thinness, it would be close to twice as thin as currently possible on these machines, and circuits would have a width of less than one-thousandth of a human hair.

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