process technology

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process technology

With regard to digital integrated circuits, process technology refers to the particular method used to make silicon chips. The driving force behind the manufacture of integrated circuits is miniaturization, and process technology boils down to the size of the finished transistor and other components. The smaller the transistors, the more transistors in the same area, the faster they switch, the less energy they require and the cooler the chip runs (given equal numbers of transistors).

Measured in Nanometers
The size of the features (the elements that make up the structures on a chip) used to be measured in micrometers. A 3 µm process technology, also called a "technology node" and "process node," referred to a silicon chip with features three micrometers in size. Today, features are measured in nanometers. A 45 nm process technology refers to features 45 nm or 0.45 µm in size.

Elements Measured
Historically, the process technology referred to the length of the silicon channel between the source and drain terminals in field effect transistors (see FET). The sizes of other features are generally derived as a ratio of the channel length, where some may be larger than the channel size and some smaller. For example, in a 90 nm process, the length of the channel may be 90 nm, but the width of the gate terminal may be only 50 nm.

An Example of Progress
Consider that the process technology of the first 486 chip in 1989 was one micron (1,000 nanometers). By 2003, the state-of-the-art decreased to 90 nm ("90 nano"). In 15 years, feature sizes were reduced by slightly less than one millionth of a meter. What may seem like a minuscule, microscopic change to the casual observer took thousands of man years and billions of dollars worth of research and development. Note the huge variance in semiconductor feature sizes starting in the 1950s (see chart below).

Chips Are Nanotechnology
Intel introduced 45 nm processors in 2008. To understand how tiny 45 nanometers is, it would take two thousand 45 nm objects laid side-by-side to equal the thickness of one human hair.

In 2010, 32 nm chips were introduced, and feature sizes as low as 11 nm are expected in the future. For some time, chips have been in the realm of nanotechnology, which refers to elements 100 nanometers and smaller. See half-node.

Half a Micron Is Huge
In a span of five years, the feature size on these AMD chips was reduced from .8 to .35 microns. Half a micron may seem insignificant, but not in the microminiature world of semiconductor manufacturing. As features get smaller, the chip runs cooler and faster. (Image courtesy of Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.)


Semiconductor Feature Sizes(approximate for all vendors)       Nanometers  MicrometersYear     (nm)        (µm)

 1957   120,000      120.0
 1963    30,000       30.0
 1971    10,000       10.0
 1974     6,000        6.0
 1976     3,000        3.0
 1982     1,500        1.5
 1985     1,300        1.3
 1989     1,000        1.0
 1993       600        0.6
 1996       350        0.35
 1998       250        0.25
 1999       180        0.18
 2001       130        0.13
 2003        90        0.09
 2005        65        0.065
 2008        45        0.045
 2010        32        0.032
 2012        22        0.022
 2014        16        0.016
 2014        14        0.014
 2016**      11        0.011
 2018**       6        0.006
 2020**       4        0.004

 ** estimated
References in periodicals archive ?
With Philips' commitment to Synopsys' front-end design platform, we will jointly deliver state-of-the-art flows for 90 nanometers and below.
All of these crystals fall within a remarkably small range of sizes -- 50 to 90 nanometers -- and each bacterial species grows its crystals in a specific shape, report Heywood and her colleagues in Bath and at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
In 2007, Fujitsu will crank up the clock on the Sparc64 VI to more than 3GHz using a process that is smaller than 90 nanometers (65 nanometers seems likely).
Additionally, this new architecture provides very accurate and efficient modeling of lithographic and CMP (chemical-mechanical polishing) effects that dominate manufacturability at 90 nanometers (nm) and below, and we are integrating this technology into our design and flow.
We are seeing a clear momentum from our customers toward adopting this solution to help meet the needs of their low-power designs, especially at 90 nanometers and even more advanced processes.
Scaling MirrorBit technology to 90 nanometers in 2005 is an important milestone," said Bertrand Cambou, president and CEO of Spansion.
The correct choice of library cells can have a significant effect on production yields at 90 nanometers and below," said Brani Buric, senior director of platform product marketing and business development for Virage Logic.
Building on its leadership position at 90 nanometers, S3 has clearly demonstrated its capability to migrate complex designs to the 65-nanometer technology node," said Wei-Jin Dai, corporate vice president, R&D for Cadence.
As designs move beyond 90 nanometers, noise on the clock network is having serious impact on skew and jittering, resulting in timing budget issues and manufacturability challenges.
The Encounter-based flow has, to date, produced 150 high-end production ASICs at or below 130 nanometers with all first silicon success, out of which about 30 designs were developed at 90 nanometers.
Its crosstalk prevention features, coupled with NanoRoute SI aware routing, provide a fast path to GDSII and final design closure at 90 nanometers.
Cu-08 will support circuits as small as 90 nanometers -- less than 1/1,000th the width of a human hair.