WASHINGTON -- Texas Instruments Inc. is accelerating efforts to shrink drawn gate lengths to 0.10 micron in a new CMOS process technology that will be moved into production as early as next year, said a TI manager here during a presentation at the International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM).
The next-generation process, disclosed last year, will support copper interconnects by the middle of 2000 and 300-mm wafer processing by the second half of 2001, said Gene Frantz, senior fellow and new business development manager for TI's digital signal processors, based in Houston. The new process will allow mixture of advanced digital and analog circuits, and it will be a key step in TI's technology roadmap, which calls for multi-processor DSPs with design rules below 0.075 micron by 2005, said Frantz at an IEDM tutorial session on Sunday.
"We have a set of tools in our arsenal," said Frantz in an interview before the IEDM presentation. "Copper production at TI will be started up in the middle of next year. We will be at 0.1 micron a little after mid-next year. SOI silicon-on-insulator is set to start production in 2002," he added. Eventually, TI will be integrating other technologies into future CMOS processes, including high-speed transistors made with compound materials, such as silicon germanium (SiGe).
The smorgasbord of technologies and aggressive device shrinks will eventually lead to the ability to produce DSP chips in 2010 that have the capability of reaching 3 million MIPS (million instructions per second) with 30 or even 50 processors on a single integrated circuit, predicted Frantz. That performance level will be more than 230 times higher than today's most advanced DSPs, he added.
"The power dissipation forecast from the early 1990s still seems to be on track," Frantz reasoned. "If we take that trend line out to 2010, that means the industry will have somewhere on the order of one microwatt per MIPS of performance. A trillion instructions-per-second IC would be about 1 watt," he said. "So that would be well within the range of reason in terms of power dissipation."
But what does the industry do with 3 million MIPS DSP-based ICs? Frantz told the IEDM session that there will be plenty of applications for higher levels of performance and integration, but companies must keep ask themselves if designing massive system-on-chip ICs are the right time to do.
"I often talk to customers who want single chip, but when I ask if they want the lowest cost with a two-chip solution dividing up functions, they often say no immediately," Frantz said in the interview with SBN. "It takes a long time to convince them that if I can optimize the system, two chips might be cheaper than one chip. I spend a lot of time arguing point and the fact that 'SoC' is not necessarily the ultimate solution. If fact I'm not even sure if we can really define what SoC is," added Frantz referring to the meaning of "system-on-chip" designs.
Frantz, who started his career at TI in the calculator division, recalls efforts more than 20 years ago to produce the "signal-chip calculator," but he noted that many system functions were not on the die--such as the keyboard, display and battery. But there are some true single-chip applications on the horizon.
One, according to Frantz, might be hearing aids. "The industry is beginning to realize that we can integrate microphones on an integrated circuit. So, perhaps we can integrate the microphone, A-to-D, D-to-A, the DSPs, and perhaps the speakers," he speculated. "The work we are doing with DLP Digital Light Processors might allow those little mirrors on silicon surfaces to push enough air to become a transducer for the eardrum.
"When I talk to people abut this possibility, they look at me as if I was crazy. But there is a chance we could go off and do a whole hearing aid on a single circuit," he said. "That would be interesting. It might not be the lowest-cost solution but it would be interesting."
Other possible uses of multi-processor DSP chips include multimedia mobile phones, enhanced video conferencing, wearable health monitoring devices, and autonomous home robots, suggested Frantz.