August 2008

Intel shrinks to 45 nanometers first

The rhythm of Moore's Law pushes computer makers to change, to get smaller, and to get faster about every two years. All the more so for Intel since that "Moore" is company co-founder Gordon Moore.

The Silicon Valley company, supplier of the electronic brains in most computers, will reach nearly $40 billion in revenue this year. Therefore, Intel has a lot of money to plow into new products and other initiatives.

The Wall Street Journal reported the company just introduced Centrino 2, the second generation of a set of chips for laptop computers it launched five years ago.

Few corporate weapons compare with D1D, the Hillsboro, Ore., plant where silicon wafers move among complex machines in a huge production area the size of 3.5 football fields.

What sets the plant apart is not manufacturing capacity but a production recipe that makes the microscopic transistors on Intel's latest chips especially small and fast.

The company beat competitors to shrink its circuitry to 45 nanometers (billionths of a meter) and in adopting new materials that further speed up its chips.

Recently, Intel technicians were working on the next recipe, rated at 32 nanometers, which next year could produce chips with even smaller and faster transistors.

Richard Hill, chief executive of Novellus Systems Inc., a toolmaker for the industry, says, "Intel is in a class of their own."

Advanced Micro Device Inc., Intel's chief rival, is discussing ways to spend less on manufacturing technology. In theory, Intel could slow the pace of miniaturization to try to maximize profit.

The engineers in Oregon do not see that happening. "I'm not sure we know how to take our foot off the gas," said Mark Bohr, a director in Intel's technology and manufacturing group.