IBM semiconductor alliance targets 32nm for metal gate fabrication

Tuesday 15th April 2008, 05:10:00 AM, written by Carl Bender

IBM announced Monday that the semiconductor research alliance led by the firm had successfully demonstrated significant process advancement through the incorporation of high-k/metal gate (HKMG) in test silicon at its East Fishkill fab. Anticipated originally for the 45nm node following a technology announcement in January of 2007, IBM and its partners will instead introduce HKMG fabrication at 32nm, with pilot production slated to begin in the third quarter of this year. Claimed performance gains from HKMG on 32nm - within the context of identical voltage to a 45nm control - include clockspeed increases of up to 35 percent and significant reductions in power.

In addition to IBM itself, 'Common Platform' partners Chartered Semiconductor and Samsung will offer OEM fabrication capacity featuring HKMG design, becoming the first OEMs to do so for the 32nm node. The process is further extensible to the 28nm half-node, and feasibility studies have concluded that HKMG fabrication should port successfully to the 22nm node in the future. The three are prepared to begin working with interested clients immediately to design chips around the process, and the partners are confident that the power/performance profile offered by HKMG will serve as a significant value-add differentiator to competing non-HKMG processes in the OEM market.

Other participating members of the research alliance named in the release include Infineon, STMicro, Freescale, and Toshiba. Toshiba is notable for being, along with Sony, a featured company in the original HKMG announcement. For its own part Sony has since scaled back its involvement in non-imaging related semiconductor production and left the research alliance, while maintaining its production interest in East Fishkill (Sony has invested hundreds of millions into the lines) and creating a new joint venture with Toshiba to manage semiconductor production for SCE. Sony also remains involved in the Cell research alliance; previous expectations were that the 45nm node might bring HKMG to Cell, revealed at ISSCC to remain SOI, and those predictions have now moved out to 32nm.

Another prominent company in the original announcement last year was AMD, absent as well from mention in the most recent release. Very much still a core member of the research alliance, AMD has claimed separately its preparedness to introduce HKMG at the 45nm node if need be. However, given the realities of its present fabrication capacity surplus and financial constraints, it is realistic to expect that AMD will wait until 32nm to introduce HKMG chips.

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