TOKYO In a bid to stay one step ahead of market leader Intel Corp., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. has started shipping samples of its first copper-based X86 microprocessors as it prepares to report first-quarter sales of more than $1 billion, said the company's chairman and chief executive officer W.J. Sanders III.
Sanders would not reveal the expected clock frequency of AMD's upcoming Athlon processor code-named Thunderbird with integrated Level 2 cache and copper interconnects, which it expects to ship by midyear. AMD began shipping its fastest 1-GHz Athlon processors, built with its 0.18-micron process technology and aluminum interconnects, to a limited number of customers last month.
The Thunderbird chip, which is will be produced at the company's Fab 30 in Dresden, Germany, is based on a 0.18-micron, six-layer metal copper manufacturing process. The process was frozen last winter and later qualified at the end of last quarter.
Wafer yields are high and stable for both Athlon processors and 4-Mbit SRAM chips based on the new process. Though AMD will not publically disclose the speed of the new Athlon until June, Sanders indicated in a presentation here that the company is seeing "excellent" speed results and has started shipping qualification chips to customers.
"The process is going well, and according to plan. The [technology] qualification has been completed successfully," said Sanders at a press conference, which commemorated his company's 25 years of operation in Japan. Sanders said he expects product qualification to be completed by June.
Because of its low resistivity compared to conventional aluminum interconnect, copper is being pursued for chip designs where interconnect speed can make a big difference in performance, such as in high-performance microprocessors and, more recently, in field-programmable gate arrays.
IBM took an early lead with copper interconnects when it adopted the technology for its PowerPC processor several years ago, with Motorola Inc. close behind. So far, there have been no mass-market X86 processors based on copper. Intel is not using copper in its 0.18-micron process, though it is using low-k dielectric materials. Intel is expected to introduce a combination of low-k and copper with its 0.13-micron process in 2001.
Thunderbird is one of four new processors AMD is slated to introduce this year. Sanders said AMD will introduce its Spitfire processor with on-chip cache by June, followed by its Mustang mobile processor with up to 2 Mbytes of on-chip cache, as well as a low-end version, in the fourth quarter.
All of the new chips will be compatible with the Slot A socket. The Spitfire will also be available in a PGA package, as will the Thunderbird, but only after the Slot A version hits the market, Sanders said.
By the end of 2001, AMD expects to introduce its 32- and 64-bit compatible Sledgehammer processor, which will run at 2-GHz, Sanders said.
The sale of 1.2 million Athlon processors last quarter, combined with strong sales of flash memory, pushed AMD's first quarter sales up 10 percent to $1.06 billion, Sanders said.