Looking into Intel’s new fab

The 40-minute video I linked to earlier with a tour by Intel Senior Fellow Mark Bohr has lots of interesting facts:

  1. The fab is three-football fields big and is the first of several fabs that’ll be exact copies of this one around the world (Israel and Arizona were specifically mentioned).
  2. It’s one of the cleanest rooms in the world.
  3. My camera is too “dirty” to get into the fab.
  4. Intel secret? They won’t tell me how many chips fit on a wafer. They also wouldn’t tell me how many chips a single fab could produce.
  5. 4:33: a piece of hair is huge compared to a nanometer. A red blood cell is 5,000 nanometers big. A transistor on the new chips is 45 nanometers.
  6. The real advance here is High-K dielectrics (link goes to Wikipedia). Good description of what that means is at 6:10.
  7. The new gate, above the dielectric (see technical discussion and photos about 26 minutes into the video) is based on hafnium (link goes to Wikipedia).
  8. Transistors up to now were created using silicon dioxide. Hafnium-based Metal Gates are much harder to manufacture, which is why it took so long. Intel is the first company to do this process.
  9. How many steps does a processor go through to be built? More than 50.
  10. How long does it take to make a 45 nm processor? “A few weeks.”
  11. There are eight copper interconnect layers on the new chips.
  12. The modern chip has 200 to 300 million transistors. The first chip Intel made had only 2,000 transistors.
  13. You can see the “clean/dirty” barrier in the cleanroom at about 11:10 in the video. On one side you need to be suited up and wearing booties to keep dirt on your shoes from contaminating the clean room, on the other, street clothes are OK.
  14. About a thousand technicians and engineers will work in the cleanroom, which works 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
  15. Most equipment is fully automated now. Workers don’t touch the wafers anymore like in the old days. A robot takes wafers around the fab line between “tools,” which, really, are entirely encased machines which do only a portion of the process needed to produce a processor.
  16. If you see a fab from the outside, 15:20, you’ll see a variety of pipes which mostly bring air into and outside of the plant.
  17. Mark has worked at Intel for 29 years and he talks at 17:00 about the differences between processor manufacturing then and now. Discusses how important “yields” are to processor manufacturers.
  18. Fibbing is an focused ion beam that engineers can use to “connect” small details on a chip. Mark says they don’t do that on chips they sell, but do use that on prototype processors to correct design errors for testing purposes.
  19. 19:46, discussion of what a “new fab” means.
  20. At 21:15 you get a look into the fab through one of several windows that exist on the side of the fab. I love the sign on the window. It says “no cameras.”
  21. The fab is three levels, we only got to see one (the clean room).
  22. 22:40, I asked Mark what he’s proudest of on the 45 nm processors. He answered the High-K dielectric which, he says, represents the biggest change in transistor manufacture since the 1960s.
  23. 22:30, discussion of “leakage,” which affects how power-efficient, and cool, a chip can be. Mark says that leakage has been reduced by a factor of five to 10 times. Translation: your battery will last longer!
  24. Discussion of competition at 25:20. “That’s some of the excitement of working in this industry.”
  25. 26:15 photos of “old, 65 nm” and “new, 45 nm” transistors and a technical, but understandable, discussion of how transistors work on a processor.
  26. Admission, at 28:30, that the first chips have already been produced and properly ran Windows.
  27. Intel, Mark says, has been working on this process for about three years.
  28. 30:30: discussion of the people involved.
  29. Discussion of key steps along the way. 31:21.
  30. At 36:30 Mark tells us what the secrets of Intel are.
  31. Mark takes us through some photos of older technology at about 38 minutes into the video.

What would you ask if you got a chance to get a tour of Intel?


More on Intel’s announcement

Reuters: Moore’s Law seen extended in chip breakthrough.

I’ll add more as I find more links. Oh, there already is a bunch over on Google News. Speaking of Google, did you notice they switched back to Intel chips? I bet it had a LOT to do with Penryn, because they use less power. If you’re Google one of your biggest costs is power in a data center. Remember, you shove hundreds of thousands of computers in a building and you start having real power issues.

One funny story? I couldn’t get into the fab. Why? My camera is too “dirty.” It would have destroyed thousands of chips. The fab is one of the cleanest rooms in the world.

Getting a look at Intel’s new 45nm fab

Here’s Intel’s Senior Fellow, Mark Bohr, showing me around the new Intel 45 nm fab up near Portland, Oregon.

Some parts of this are boring (he takes me into the part of the fab where workers put on their “bunny suits”) but others are real interesting, including a discussion of the technology behind how they shrunk transistors to 45nm.

[podtech content=http://media.podtech.net/media/2007/01/PID_010055/Podtech_Intel_45NM_part1.flv&postURL=http://www.podtech.net/scobleshow/technology/1329/intel-says-goodbye-to-silicon-dioxide-in-new-45-nanometer-fab&totalTime=2421000&breadcrumb=3F34K2L1]

And here’s Kelin Kuhn, who is the 45 nanometer device group manager. She runs the test lab where they figure out how to improve yields. That’s very important to Intel’s business. A little-known fact is that not every processor on a wafer is useable. The higher the percentage of usable processors, the more profitable Intel will be. It’s Kelin’s job to increase that yield. She’s a real impressive person and hope you enjoy meeting her as much as I did.

[podtech content=http://media.podtech.net/media/2007/01/PID_010056/Podtech_Intel_45NMlab_part2.flv&postURL=http://www.podtech.net/scobleshow/technology/1330/testing-out-intels-new-45-nanometer-processors&totalTime=444000&breadcrumb=3F34K2L1]

Of course, what does this all mean? By the end of 2007 companies like Apple and Dell will be able to bring out computers that are faster, use less power, and are cheaper to produce.

Congrats to the Intel team for getting 45nm done. It’s an impressive technical achievement and one that most of us don’t really appreciate when turning on our machines.

Here’s John Markoff’s article about the new Intel announcements in the New York Times.

UPDATE: PodTech produced a more professional video about these announcements.