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Intel 45nm Fab Process And Penryn Preview
Date: Jan 26, 2007
Author: Marco Chiappetta
High-K and Metal Gate Transistors

Intel's impressive manufacturing process capabilities and fab resources are well known throughout the industry. In fact, most would argue that their manufacturing prowess has played a large part in the company's success. They've had many "firsts" over the years due to process advancements, the most recent of which was their successful cross-over from 90nm to 65nm mass production.  Due to that success Intel has already shipped millions of processors manufactured at 65nm.

Today, Intel is announcing a breakthrough that will affect future products scheduled to be manufactured using the company's even more advanced 45nm process. A major issue that become more significant as manufacturing processes get smaller is current leakage. Leakage occurs through multiple parts of a semiconductor, but one of the most problematic situations occurs when unwanted current flows through the gate dielectric in a transistor. Ideally, the gate dielectric would act as a perfect insulator. But because it is made ever thinner as manufacturing processes advance and die geometries continue to shrink, current leaks through gate dielectric. In Intel's 65nm process, it is only 5 atomic layers thick.  This leads to undesirable results and the transistor consumes more power than it should.

With their 45nm process, however, Intel has been able to develop and successfully implement a high-k (capacitance) and metal gate transistor that significantly reduce leakage current. According to Intel, the combination of manufacturing processors using their 45nm process, in conjunction with the high-k and metal gate transistor breakthrough will offer a number of key benefits:

  • ~2x improvement in transistor density, for either smaller chip size or increased transistor count
  • ~30% reduction in transistor switching power
  • >20%improvement in transistor switching speed or >5x reduction in source-drain leakage power
  • >10x reduction in gate oxide leakage power

In the image above, a traditional polysilicon gate MOS transistor is on the left and one of Intel's new high-k and metal gate transistors is on the right. These structures differ in two key ways.  First, the polysilicon gate in the standard transistor has been replaced with a metal gate.  What metals are being used exactly have not been disclosed, but Intel did say that the metals being used for NMOS and PMOS transistors are different. The second difference between the two is that the polysilicon gate of the standard transistor has been replaced with a Halfnium-based High-K gate oxide.

The advantages of the high-k and metal gate transistor are outlined in the image above (the red arrows indicate area of current leakage). The high capacitance metal gate and high-k dielectric both work together to increase the gate field effect. And the use of a thicker dielectric layer reduces gate leakage. When combined, the drive current can be increased by over 20%, which in turn improves performance by a similar amount.  And source-drain leakage (the arrow running left to right) and gate oxide leakage (the arrow running up and down) are both reduced by factors of 5 and 10, respectively.

Above we have a high-power micrograph of one of Intel's high-k and metal gate transistors. This is one of the actual transistors found in one of Intel's upcoming processors manufactured at 45nm, and not a lab device. The image shows the different layers that make up the actual transistor.  If you look close you can actually see the individual atomic layers in the silicon substrate at the bottom.

Intel is able to build these new transistor using mostly existing tools, but the high-k material is deposited by new processing step, dubbed atomic layer deposition. Deposited materials are laid down one atomic layer at a time with very precise control.

The Penryn Die and New Fabs

Today's announcement isn't about a breakthrough that won't bear fruit for many years. The first products produced with the new high-k and metal gate transistors will be available in just a few months and Intel plans to ramp up production in three new fabs over the next year or so.

Intel's D1D Oregon fab will be the first, and it is where current sample were developed.  Fab 32 in Arizona will come on-line a few weeks later and begin manufacturing 45nm high-k and metal gate products in the second half of this year, and Fab 28 will come on-line in Israel sometime in 2008, if all goes according to plan. In total, when all is said and done, Intel will have three 45nm fabs by the end of next year at an investment of about $9 billion. Between the three facilities, they'll have about a 1/2 million square feet of clean room.


As we've mentioned, today's announcement by Intel is already very real.  The images above show an engineer holding a 300mm wafer of SRAM dice produced at 45nm, and the image on the right is a die-shot of an upcoming processor in the Core 2 family, currently code-named "Penryn". Penryn will bring with it microacrchitectural improvements over Conroe (current Core 2 product), larger cache sizes, and SSE4 support.  Also, although clock speeds will be increased, processors based on Penryn should fall within the same thermal envelopes as Conroe.

Intel said the first products to use this technology will likely be 35W mobile CPUs, with servers and desktops to follow depending on platform readiness.  If your wondering if your motherboard will support Penryn, Intel expects some motherboard developers will have to make minor modification to support Penryn, which include some BIOS changes and perhaps electrical changes.  Some of the current crop of LGA775 compatible motherboards are likely to work, however.  It'll be a similar situation to the Conroe launch.

We should also note that Intel has already showcased working Penryn processors in action.  At a press event on January 25, 2007, presenters Mark Bohr and Stephen L. Smith showcased Penryn in the following five configurations:

  • 45nm dual core mobile processor in a notebook with Microsoft Vista running Microsoft Office 2003 applications
  • 2.13GHz 45nm dual-core desktop processor running high definition video content (1080P) under Microsoft Vista.
  • 1.86GHz 45nm quad-core desktop processor running Ubisoft's Rainbow Six Las Vegas game under Microsoft Vista
  • Two, 2.13GHz 45nm dual-core processors running Glaze* Workstation application under Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server
  • Two, 2.13GHz 45nm quad-core processors encoding a video in Adobe Premier under Microsoft Vista

So, what does all this mean to you and me?  Basically, it means Intel is poised and ready to produce next-generation 45nm processors using high-k and metal gate transistors.  And also those processors will be more economical to produce, will require less power, generate less heat, and run at higher frequencies than Intel's current 65nm products, which are already the most advanced in the industry.  This is a show of strength if you will, and an impressive one at that.  How impressive?  We'll wrap-up here with a few quotes from Gordon Moore (Intel), Professor Dimitri Antoniadis (MIT), and Yoshio Nishi (Stanford) telling you what they think of Intel's achievements.

"The implementation of high-k and metal gate materials marks the biggest change in transistor technology since the introduction of polysilicongate MOS transistors in the late 1960s" - Gordon Moore

"The Intel 45-nm CMOS technology marks a historic milestone for the semiconductor industry. Similar to the transition from single metal (Al) gate to polysilicon gate that has allowed optimal nFET and pFET design, the introduction of dual metal with high-k-insulator gate-stack

opens the path for optimal design of both types of FETs, at insulator thicknesses necessary for continuing device scaling that are impossible to reach with the industry-standard silicon-dioxide-based insulators. Many options of high-k gate-stacks have been the target of intense industry and academic research for many years now, but Intel's demonstration of a manufacturable dual-metal/high-k solution is a remarkable first." - Prof. Dimitri Antoniadis

"It is a huge break through to replace more than three decade's long successful polysilicon gate technology with a new high-k+metal gate technology.  Though the combination of high-k dielectrics and metal gate electrode for advanced CMOS has been extensively studied by many researchers around the world as the ideal MOS gate structure, the technical hurdle to bring the technology to manufacturing floor has been believed still too high for the 45nm node. As a researcher in this field, I am pleasantly surprised by the announcement and would like to congratulate Intel researchers for their success that Intel has demonstrated 45nm microprocessors with their high-k and metal gate technology. Even though specific metal and high-k material have not been disclosed at this moment, this is a revolutionary step toward the world of sub-50nm CMOS integrated circuits, as this new technology will drastically improve transistor performance in all fronts of electrical specifications, resulting in significant improvement of IC performance." - Yoshio Nishi

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