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Intel Corp.’s new fabrication process for RF-enabled system-on-chip devices may finally open the door for the world’s largest supplier of microprocessors to the market of smartphones.

Intel Corp. has been trying to enter the market of chips for smartphones and other handheld devices for years. The first attempt involved ARM-based Intel Xscale chips; the second attempt was focused around low-power x86 Atom products and system-on-chips (SoCs). Without much luck in the latter case. Partly this happened because x86 processors consumer a lot of power, partly because smartphone vendors demand very high integration; in particular, they want baseband controllers inside the main SoCs. Intel’s new 32nm SoC process allows installing radio frequency (RF) units into the company’s future system-on-chips.

Intel engineers have developed a new version of 32nm HKMG process technologies – initially created for CPUs – to make SoCs, particularly those requiring low power and RF/mobile communications. A full array of features has been added, including a triple-transistor architecture with high frequency performance, low leakage power and good noise performance, and high breakdown power amplifier transistors. The latter is needed for CMOS power amplifiers in integrated radio applications such as Wi-Fi, WiMAX, cellular, and GPS. The process provides noise isolation through deep-n-well and high resistivity substrates, and includes high quality inductors, resistors, and varactors.

Intel has already licensed baseband technologies from Nokia Corp. As a result, the company’s breed of SoCs aimed at small devices, including the code-named Medfield SoC, may now be made with RF units included.

Intel described this new technology at the 2010 Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits this week.

Tags: Intel, 32nm, Semiconductor

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