Thursday, May 1, 2008

Future of lithography still undecided

The semiconductor fabrication industry still appears to be undecided as to just what is next. 90nm seems pretty much settled, but the tools and techniques to go as far as 45nm are still very much on the drawing board. Teams from Sony have demonstrated a resolution capable of 45nm but, like Intel's well-publicized 10GHz ALUs, they're a long way from making anything real and marketable. An interesting piece at EETimes highlights the uncertainty in the industry.

Despite the fact that the industry is moving into 90 nm pilot production with existing 193 nm steppers for critical layers, vendors of alternative technologies are pushing their systems toward production.

Alternative methods, and their patent holders, see the processes beyond 90nm as their holy grail, where they can make their mark on the market. Today's extreme-ultra-violet lithography is nearing the limits of its resolution. As we have gone through optical to ultra-violet, the next logical step is x-ray lithography. Not according to JMAR Research who, as well as X-ray lithography, are researching the possible applications of Collimated Plasma Lithography (CPL) for future semiconductor fabrication.

With the big two of AMD and Intel designing x86 processors for higher and higher clock frequencies, as well as a host of embedded and mobile applications from thousands of vendors, more precise and smaller fabrication nodes are required to keep the die size down and to keep the power consumption within reasonable levels. Future fabrication techniques are designed to help designers achieve these complimentary aims which benefit both our top spec desktops and our hand held devices.

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