SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Intel Corp. has scrapped its production plans to use 193-nm, argon-fluoride (ArF) lithography tools from Silicon Valley Group Inc. because of delays in tool shipments. The decision, confirmed by an Intel official in an interview with SBN, apparently kills a $100 million tool order.
The decision is also a major setback for ASM Lithography, which acquired SVG for $1.6 billion in stock two months ago to gain access to advanced scanner technologies and Intel's lithography business (see May 22 story). ASML officials in the Netherlands refused to comment on Intel's decision.
SVG "had a window of opportunity for 193-nm scanners at Intel," said Mark T. Bohr, an Intel Fellow and director of process architecture and integration at the Santa Clara chip giant. "That window has closed," Bohr said in an interview on Monday.
Intel is now opening up the evaluation of 193-nm scanners from several suppliers, including ASML and the acquired SVG Lithography operation in Wilton, Conn. But after several months of delays, it now appears that SVG's Micrascan 193 high-numerical aperture (HNA) scanner is no longer a shoo-in at Intel.
Eighteen months ago, Intel was reportedly the "leading microprocessor manufacturer" placing a $100 million order for SVG's Micrascan 193 tools (see Dec. 15, 1999, story). And since then, SVG had to push back delivery of Micrascan 193 systems to Intel.
Originally, SVG was scheduled to deliver Micrascan 193 in April, but that shipment was delayed to July (see April 25 story). At this month's Semicon West trade show in San Francisco, ASML officials confirmed that the SVG 193-nm system had been delayed again by another three to four months. The systems are now scheduled to be shipped in October (see July 18 story).
The delays in SVG's 193 tools have impacted Intel's process technology roadmap--in spiteof constant denials by the chip giant, according to analysts. Last week, for example, Intel disputed reports that the 193-nm scanner delays impacted its ramp of new 0.13-micron (130-nm) process technology. A spokesman for Intel said the SVG scanners were actually targeted for the 0.10-micron (100-nm) technology and not the 0.13-micron process (see July 25 story).
But in reality, Intel had originally hoped to use the SVG Micrascan 193 tools for production of wafers at the 0.13-micron technology node, enabling the chip maker to avoid extensive use of phase-shifting photomasks that are needed to extend 248-nm scanners to next-generation technologies. The SVG 193-nm systems were originally intended for critical device layers in the 0.13-micron process, internally called "P860" by Intel.
At a press event in San Francisco on Monday, Intel rolled out its first microprocessor products based on 0.13-micron design rules. The Pentium III products included a line of mobile processors and supporting chip sets (see July 30 story).
But these processors are being fabricated with 248-nm lithography systems from Nikon Corp. and SVG--not the 193-nm scanners from SVG, as originally planned, confirmed Bohr. "We had hoped to use the 193-nm tools on the critical layers at the 130-nm node," Bohr said in an interview after Monday's press conference.
With SVG's 193-nm scanners, Intel had hoped to process at least four of the 20-plus layers for the devices based on 0.13-micron design rules, Bohr said. The remaining layers would be processed via 248-nm tools, he said.
But unable to obtain SVG's 193-nm scanners, Intel has been forced to process wafers at the 130-nm node with 248-nm exposure tools and phase-shifting masks, Bohr explained.
Asked if these unplanned moves have impacted or hindered Intel's 0.13-micron ramp, Bohr said: "Absolutely not true. Our 130-nm process is pretty healthy. The yields in our 0.13-micron process are even better than our 0.18-micron process," he added.
But analysts following Intel say they believe that the company is paying a major cost penalty by using more expensive phase-shifting photomasks in the 130-nm technology node. Intel continues to deny that this is impacting its manufacturing costs at this time.
"Some of the layers use phase-shift masks," Bohr said. "But we are using inexpensive phase-shift masks."
For years, Intel has primarily used two lithography vendors in its production fabs--Nikon and SVG. Both supply 248-nm tools to Intel. The Santa Clara company plans to continue to use 248-nm step-and-scan systems from SVG, which is now part of ASML's North American subsidiary.
While the Intel official did not elaborate on their plans, analysts believe that the chip giant itself may have miscalculated its strategy at the 130-nm node. Some lithography experts believe that 193-nm tools from SVG and other vendors were simply not ready to enter the production mode at this node.
There are several problems with 193-nm exposure tools, including the lens. The lens in these scanners consists of a material, called calcium fluoride (CaF2), which as been difficult to procure and produce. This has been a key factor in delays of shipments. Also causing delays have been the lack of maturity in 193-nm photoresists and mask technologies, according to lithography experts.
But moving ahead, Intel now plans to target 193-nm scanners for production volumes in the 100-nm (0.10-micron) node. Intel's 100-nm technology--internally called "P1262"--is expected to enter into mainstream production in the company's 300-mm wafer fabs by 2003.
But the clock is ticking on the microprocessor giant. The shipment problems with SVG's 193-nm tools reportedly could even delay Intel's 100-nm development programs by several months, according to sources.
And at the same time, Intel is under pressure to develop this technology in order to stay one step ahead of its rival in the processor market--Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Ironically, AMD has reportedly taken delivery of a 193-nm tool for development purposes from SVG's new parent company--ASML. The Dutch company is the major scanner vendor at AMD.
"We are currently evaluating all 193-nm tool makers," Bohr said. "For 0.10-micron technology, the 193-nm scanner business is up in the air."
Industry sources said they believe Intel will go with two scanner makers at the 100-nm
Currently, it appears that Nikon of Japan has the inside track for the business. The Japanese company--one of Intel's key lithography vendors--has reportedly shipped one of its 193-nm scanners to the Santa Clara-based chip giant.
Intel is reportedly using Nikon's existing S305B line of 193-nm tools for development purposes. But for the production business, Intel will reportedly evaluate Nikon's recently-announced, "fourth-generation'' 193-nm scanner, which will be shipped in the spring of 2002 or so. Dubbed the S306C, Nikon's high NA (0.78) platform is geared for the 100-nm node (see June 25 story).
Several sources believe that ASML is also in the running at Intel. Some even speculate that ASML will reportedly win some 300-mm scanner business at Intel in 2002. Bohr declined to comment.
While Intel continues to wait for SVG's 193-nm tool, the chip giant is reportedly evaluating ASML's own, internally-developed scanners. Recently, ASML rolled out the new AT:1100 scanner, a 193-nm tools that is geared for high-volume production of both 200- and 300-mm wafers at the 100-nm node. Built around the company's 300-mm, dual-stage platform--the Twinscan--the AT:1100 features a high NA of 0.75. ASML will ship this system by year's end.
The long shot at Intel is Canon Inc. Tokyo-based Canon has little or no track record at Intel, but the Japanese company may sneak up on its rivals. It is one of the first companies to ship a 193-nm tool in volumes, according to Canon officials.