AMD eyes 45-nanometer transistors

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) researchers on Tuesday revealed details of how their company plans to build processors using the next-generation 45-nanometer process technology that AMD hopes to have in production by as early as 2007.

Speaking at a Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) meeting in Washington, D.C., the researchers discussed how AMD will use a combination of new manufacturing techniques to reduce the size of the components in its chips.

“What we talked about at the conference today was the learning curve we had to go through,” said Craig Sander, the vice-president of technology development with AMD. “This design makes it possible for 45-nanometer processors to actually work.”

A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. Chips built with a 45-nanometer process will have individual circuit lines that are as small as 45 billionths of a meter and components that are as small as 20 nanometers, according to AMD.

But AMD’s 45-nanometer chips are at least four years away, according to Sander. Chip makers are just now beginning to come out with products built using a 90-nanometer process.

To get to 45 nanometers, AMD’s researchers plan to use a technique called fully depleted silicon-on-insulator that reduces the electrical charge built up in different parts of a transistor.

Researchers also plan to build transistor gates on the chip out of metal called nickel-silicide, as opposed to the polysilicon that is typically used today, and will increase the ability for electricity to flow between atoms on a chip using a process called local straining.

Both Intel Corp. and AMD are looking to solve one of the key problems with 45-nanometer technology: power leakage. Last month Intel disclosed that its 45-nanometer process will use an unnamed “high-k” material designed to help prevent electric current from leaking to other parts of the chip.

AMD’s approach aims to solve the power leakage problem using “more conventional materials,” said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with the Insight64 consulting firm in Saratoga, Calif.

What is remarkable about Tuesday’s presentation, however, is not AMD’s technology, but the fact that it is being revealed, said Brookwood . “Unlike in years past when they more or less kept this stuff to themselves, they’re now going out and talking it up a little.”

With its 64-bit Opteron and Athlon 64 processors, AMD is now seeking customers who simply care more about its future technology, Brookwood said. “When they were a seller of chips that went into value PCs, their semiconductor prowess was less relevant,” he said.

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