CEBIT: Intel serves up faster chips

Intel has produced prototypes of high-density memory chips using an advanced manufacturing process, and will use the technology...

Intel has produced prototypes of high-density memory chips using an advanced manufacturing process, and will use the technology in faster microprocessors scheduled for introduction in the second half of next year, the company announced at Hanover's CeBIT trade show.

The SRAM chips have a capacity of 52M bits which, Intel claimed, is an industry record. They pack 330 million transistors onto the surface of each chip, said Mark Bohr, a fellow with Intel's technology and manufacturing group. The Pentium 4 processor carries only 42 million transistors.

The memory chips will not be sold as standalone products, but are significant to end users for two reasons, Bohr said. First, SRAMs provide a standard way for testing out a new manufacturing process, and the prototypes show that Intel is on track to introduce its 0.09-micron manufacturing process next year, which it will use to make faster microprocessors, Bohr added.

"These demonstrate all of the [0.09 micron] process features required for microprocessors, including transistors and interconnects," he said. "This silicon is real and fully functional."

The micron figure refers to the size of the circuits etched on the surface of the chips. One micron is equal to one one-thousandth of a millimetre, and today's fastest Pentium 4 chips are made using a 0.13-micron process. Like other chip makers, Intel moves to a new manufacturing process about every two years, which allows it to boost the speed of its chips without increasing costs.

The SRAM chips can act as "portable circuit blocks" that will be integrated with future processors to boost the size of their on-chip memory cache, Bohr said.

The first processor built using the 0.09-micron process will be a Pentium 4 code named Prescott that is due out next year, Bohr said. He wouldn't say how many transistors are expected to be on the chip, but recently Intel demonstrated a Pentium 4 running at 4 GHz which, it plans to introduce next year. Today's fastest Pentium 4 tops out at 2.2 GHz.

Last month, Royal Philips Electronics NV, STMicroelectronics NV and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company said they too had produced test chips using a 0.09-micron process and expect to offer prototypes later this year.

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