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Intel Corp., the world’s largest maker of x86 chips, has announced final details about its next-generation 45nm process technology and said that it has successfully manufactured five chip models using the new fabrication process. The new materials that are used in conjunction with the new process tech, represent a breakthrough in chip making, the company said.

Intel is the first to implement an innovative combination of new materials that reduces transistor leakage and increases performance in its 45nm process technology. The company will use a new material with a property called high-k, for the transistor gate dielectric, and a new combination of metal materials for the transistor gate electrode.

“The implementation of high-k and metal materials marks the biggest change in transistor technology since the introduction of polysilicon gate MOS transistors in the late 1960s,” said Intel co-founder Gordon Moore.

Silicon dioxide has been used to make the transistor gate dielectric for more than 40 years because of its manufacturability and ability to deliver continued transistor performance improvements as it has been made ever thinner. Intel has successfully shrunk the silicon dioxide gate dielectric to as little as 1.2nm thick – equal to five atomic layers – on our previous 65nm process technology, but the continued shrinking has led to increased current leakage through the gate dielectric, resulting in wasted electric current and unnecessary heat.

Transistor gate leakage associated with the ever-thinning silicon dioxide gate dielectric is recognized by the industry as one of the most formidable technical challenges facing Moore’s Law. To solve this critical issue, Intel replaced the silicon dioxide with a thicker hafnium-based high-k material in the gate dielectric, reducing leakage by more than 10 times compared to the silicon dioxide used for more than four decades.

Because the high-k gate dielectric is not compatible with today’s silicon gate electrode, the second part of Intel’s 45nm transistor material recipe is the development of new metal gate materials. While the specific metals that Intel uses remains secret, the company will use a combination of different metal materials for the transistor gate electrodes.

The combination of the high-k gate dielectric with the metal gate for Intel’s 45nm process technology provides more than a 20% increase in drive current, or higher transistor performance. Conversely it reduces source-drain leakage by more than five times, thus improving the energy efficiency of the transistor.

Intel’s 45nm process technology also improves transistor density by approximately two times that of the previous generation, allowing the company to either increase the overall transistor count or to make processors smaller.

Because the 45nm transistors are smaller than the previous generation, they take less energy to switch on and off, reducing active switching power by approximately 30%. Intel will use copper wires with a low-k dielectric for its 45nm interconnects for increased performance and lower power consumption. It will also use innovative design rules and advanced mask techniques to extend the use of 193nm dry lithography to manufacture its 45nm processors because of the cost advantages and high manufacturability it affords.

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