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Intel works at the atomic level to build smallest memory cell

Intel has taken the first step towards producing a microprocessor built on 90-nanometer (90nm) process technology, writes Eric Doyle.

At the Cebit trade show Intel announced that its research team has produced a memory chip using SRam (Static Random Access Memory) cells that measure just one square micron each.

This means that each chip - which is about the size of a 5p coin - can carry 330 million transistors, giving a memory capacity of 52Mbits. The first chips were produced using the new 300mm wafer size, allowing more chips to be produced in a shorter time than was possible using current 200mm wafers.

Developing a memory chip is just the first step towards producing a microprocessor but it is, nonetheless, a major development.

At its Developer Forum last month, Intel announced that the process will be used in the forthcoming Prescott chip - which will probably become Pentium 5 when it appears in the second half of 2003. It will also be used in Montecito - the 64-bit chip that will follow the Itanium, McKinley, Madison progression - and in an as-yet-unnamed 32-bit Xeon chip.

Intel still faces some hurdles because creating a 90nm processor will bring with it problems of heat dissipation. The finer-grained medium will bring higher Gigahertz speeds but this will generate more heat. The company will have to find ways to minimise and dissipate this.

Even though the 90nm challenge is only now being met, Intel has announced that it will have created chips that carry a million transistors by the end of the decade.

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