May 8th, 2011

Steampunk: Peek

Tiny Technology Tricks

Intel has announced a chip manufacturing breakthrough that's quite impressive, at least to people who've worked in or follow the industry. (I've worked for a couple chip manufacturing companies.) Though the article calls this a "3D" manufacturing technique, that's misleading. This isn't about stacking circuits.

Instead, they've found a way to build transistors with little fins. It gets better transfer area and, well, the article explains it nicely if you want to know the details.

The facts I want to point out are in this micrograph of some of their test gates:

That closeup shows the gate geometry they've achieve. And the first thing to note is that these miracles of modern electronics inevitably remind one of waffles. They do! That lattice and spacing just shouts "waffle!"

So I'd like you to remember, in the coming years as Intel utilizes this new manufacturing technique, that your computers are powered by tiny electric waffles. (And that would also be a good name for a rock band.)

The second thing to note is that this is a "22nm process", which means that's basically the "resolution" of the manufacturing. So those wafflewire lines are 22 nanometers across.

This is beyond the "thinner than a human hair" comparison. The mind-blowing smallness of it can be understood if I mention that a silicon atom is a third of a nanometer across. The wires we're printing in chip circuits today are at most 66 atoms wide*!

Isn't living in the future fun?

* Making easy assumptions. Figures no atomic gaps, as if atoms are packed edge to edge. Also, the traces shown are likely less than 22nm, since that's the average of the trace width and gap width and the gaps appear slightly larger in the micrograph (which is expected). So it's probably more like 50 atoms but I don't want to work out the math.