Intel moves forward to make upcoming chips faster and cheaper • The Register

By now you probably know the story: Intel has made major manufacturing mistakes over the past few years, giving rivals like AMD a major advantage, and now the x86 giant is in the midst of an ambitious five-year plan to regain its chip manufacturing. mojo.

This week, Intel is expected to detail how it will manufacture faster, cheaper, and more reliable chips from a manufacturing standpoint in the near future. IEEE 2022 Symposium on VLSI Technology and Circuitswhich starts Monday. The register and other media got a sneak peek at a briefing last week.

Details surround Intel 4, the manufacturing node previously known as the chipmaker’s 7nm process. Intel plans to use the node for products entering the market next year, including compute tiles for Meteor Lake PC processors and Granite Rapids server chips.

Intel previously promised that Intel 4 would deliver a 20% improvement in performance per watt over Intel 7, the node previously known as the company’s 10nm enhanced SuperFin that powers Alder Lake client processors and chipsets. Sapphire Rapids server recently delayed.

During the briefing, Ben Sell, the head of development for Intel 4, said the node is progressing well and his team was able to improve performance by around 21.5% for Intel 4 compared to Intel. 7 at the same power. Conversely, Intel 4 can deliver the same frequency level as Intel 7 using 40% less power.

This means that future chips like Meteor Lake will not only have better performance, which we always hope for with new chips, but also better efficiency. Improved efficiency can make a big difference in reducing the power required by a PC or server or improving the life of a laptop battery.

“Progress on Intel 4 is very positive. It’s exactly where we want to be,” said Sell, whose title is vice president of technology development.

One of the advancements made by the Sell team to increase the frequency of Intel 4 is a 2x increase in the capacitance of the metal-insulator-metal capacitor, which is a building block that Intel has used for chips since the 14nm process that debuted in 2014 with the Broadwell processor. .

The increased capacity results in fewer large voltage swings, which, in turn, increases the voltage available to the processor and allows it to operate at a higher frequency, according to Sell.

“What we’ve seen on the products is that overall it translates to a higher frequency at which you can run the product,” he said.

Back to basics

While improving performance is paramount for a new fab node, cost reduction and reliability of the chip fabrication process are also important. On those counts, Sell said his team made good progress with Intel 4’s use of EUV lithography, an advanced process that uses extreme ultraviolet light to etch a chip design onto silicon.

Compared to the immersion process Intel used for previous nodes, EUV allowed Intel to simplify the lithography process, according to Sell. In practice, this means Intel can reduce the number of layers needed to etch chip designs onto silicon wafers from five to one.

“Everything can now be printed with a single layer to give you the exact same structure,” he said.

Using EUV also improves manufacturing yield, which means the number of wafers with defects will decrease when new chips enter production, Sell told us.

The other benefit of EUV is that it will reduce Intel’s chip manufacturing costs for products using Intel 4, even though using EUV is expensive. Indeed, EUV reduces the number of steps and the number of tools required to manufacture chips, according to Sell.

“There are many other tools apart from the lithography tools that we have in our factory and many of them are also not needed once you combine everything in one step,” he said.

This streamlined process could allow Intel to increase production capacity, he said.

“That means you also get a lot less demand in terms of the cleanroom space you need. So overall, either you have to build fewer fabs or you can get more output from each fab” , Sell said.

These and other process improvements represent a more modular approach Intel is taking to developing new nodes. It’s a big departure from the more aggressive approach the chipmaker previously used to develop nodes, which has led Intel to suffer major missteps and delays with the 10nm and 7nm nodes over the course of of recent years.

“The main thing we’re doing now is we’re taking a much more modular approach to development, which means instead of having one giant leap, you have a few smaller steps and a few modules in the process that you can develop separately. This makes it much easier to develop each module on time, without the complexity of having to figure out everything else to figure out that module,” said Sell.®

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