LONDON -- Semiconductor Insights, an engineering and patent analysis consultancy, based in Katana, Ontario, Canada, is doubtful that any chipmaker has got a 90-nm manufacturing process yielding sufficiently well for commercial use.
Edward Keyes, the firm's chief technology officer, puts the use of low-k dielectric materials as the most likely cause for that and something that could dog the transition to the 90-nm node for more companies in the future.
"We haven't seen any 90-nm circuits yet. I am sure somebody will do it in 2004 but nobody's putting 90-nm circuits on shelves right now," Keyes told Silicon Strategies.
That doesn't mean that individual circuits working to specification have not been fabricated using 90-nm manufacturing processes, but rather that yields remain at low percentages so that it remains uneconomic to produce chips in high volume using the process. "People have announced they are on 90-nm but it's just not manufacturable yet," said Keyes.
Semiconductor Insights, which sells reports of deconstruction analyses of integrated circuits as well as providing custom test-chip consultancy to chipmakers, said Thursday that the EE+GS processor at the heart of Sony's PlayStation X entertainment system is implemented in a 130-nanometer manufacturing process as defined by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (see January 29 story).
Keyes said he thought the first company to bring up a 90-nm process to a commercial capability would be from among IBM Corp., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel Corp.
"I haven't heard there's a particular show stopper. The metallization is pretty conservative and the lithography should be okay. So the problems are likely to come from the low-k," said Keyes.
"At the 90-nm node you do have to drop the k value of your process. At 130-nm if you have problems with carbon-doped dielectric you can back-off and go back to FSG. At 90-nm you can't afford to back off. If you do you'll take much bigger performance hit."
"We have seen successful examples of carbon-doped dielectric material. Low-k is doable by some, but not by many," said Keyes.