Vendors unveil prototype chip technology

The EUV Industry Consortium LLC unveiled a prototype machine Wednesday that by 2006 could make chips smaller and nearly 10 times faster than they are today.

Using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light to print circuits onto microchips, in a method similar to photography, members of the consortium believe that they can surpass the limits set by current chipmaking methods, Intel Corp., one of the members, said in a statement.

Current technology could let companies print circuits down to 0.1 micron, about 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. Using EUV technology, however, the consortium believes it can bring that down to 0.03 microns. The group also expects that the processors will reach speeds of up to 10GHz by 2006, Intel said.

The prototype machine, called the Engineering Test Stand (ETS), was developed by the consortium, which also includes Motorola Inc., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), Micron Technology Inc., Infineon Technologies AG and IBM Corp. National laboratory members include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory – all in California. Sandia hosted the ETS unveiling Wednesday.

The move is a milestone for processor manufacturing, according to one analyst. “They’ve been working on this for about five years now, and when they started, a lot of people thought this would never work,” said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst of Mountain View, California-based The Linley Group. “At this point, they’ve shown that not only can they make it work, they’ve made it work within a similar economic environment of today’s processors.”

Although the key intellectual problems have all been solved at this point, the research isn’t over, Gwennap said. “There’s still a significant amount of work to do to turn this prototype into something that’s used around the world,” he added.