AMD is leaning increasingly on IBM as it battles with Intel for next-generation microprocessor manufacturing leadership. And the payout to IBM is significant.
First some background. On Tuesday, AMD announced that IBM had successfully produced a working test chip using next-generation Extreme Ultra-Violet (EUV) lithography for the critical first layer of metal connections across an entire chip. Previous projects utilizing EUV produced working chip components on only a very small portion of the chip.
Why EUV? The size of transistors and the metal lines that connect them is directly related to the wavelength of light that is used to project a chip design onto a wafer. EUV lithography uses a wavelength of 13.5 nanometers (nm), significantly shorter than today's 193 nm lithography techniques, allowing the march toward smaller and smaller chip features to continue. (Though EUV has its own set of problems discussed below.) EUV is currently targeted at the 22nm generation of chips, due in three to five years. Intel, a few years back, was targeting EUV for the 45nm generation of chips but abandoned it.
According to the Tuesday announcement, IBM and its partners patterned the first layer of metal interconnects (between the transistors), then, after other processes, the EUV device structures underwent electrical testing at AMD, with transistors showing characteristics consistent with those of test chips built using more standard techniques, the two companies said.
This development follows a series joint disclosures over the past six years that highlight the crucial expertise that IBM provides to AMD. The two companies began cooperating on advanced chip manufacturing in 2002 when AMD was having trouble with silicon-on-insulator technology, or SOI. AMD got SOI to work with help from IBM and they have been renewing agreements periodically since then. First, in September 2004 to include development of technologies through 2008 for 32nm manufacturing and then, again, in November 2005 the agreement was extended through 2011 for the 22nm process. Among other areas, AMD is now cooperating with IBM on "high-k/metal gate" transistor technology for next-generation 32nm chips--a technology that Intel is employing in its current 45nm chips.