The first full-scale prototype machine for making ICs using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light will lead to microprocessors that are tens of times faster than today’s most powerful chips and create memory chips with similar increases in storage capacity.
The prototype machine, called the Engineering Test Stand (ETS), was developed by an industry/government collaboration among three US Department of Energy national laboratories and a consortium of semiconductor companies called the EUV LLC. The consortium includes Intel Corporation, Motorola, Advanced Micro Devices, Micron Technology, Infineon Technologies and IBM.
The three DOE national laboratories, combining EUV research efforts in a Virtual National Laboratory, are Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories in California.
Using the EUV LLC, private industry has funded 100 percent of the EUV lithography research through an agreement that spans from 1997 through to early 2002.
The ETS was assembled at Sandia in Livermore, California. It will be used by LLC partners and lithography tool suppliers during the next year to refine the technology and get it ready to create a prototype commercial machine that meets industry requirements for high-volume chip production. The EUV LLC has developed relationships with more than 40 US-based infrastructure companies to ensure that all of the key components can be attained for commercialisation.
Akin to photography, lithography is used to print circuits onto microchips. EUV lithography was developed because the current chip-printing technology is expected to reach its physical limits in the next few years.
Current lithography technology is expected to allow manufacturers to eventually print circuits as small as 0.1 micron in width. EUV lithography technology is being developed to allow semiconductor manufacturers to print circuit lines well below 0.1 micron – down to at least 0.03 microns, extending the current pace of semiconductor innovation at least through the end of this decade.
‘The completion of the prototype machine marks a major milestone for the program, since we have proven that EUV lithography works,’ said Chuck Gwyn, program manager of the EUV Limited Liability Company (LLC). ‘Our next step is to transfer the technology to lithography equipment manufacturers to develop beta and production tools.’
Processors built using EUV technology are expected to reach speeds of up to 10 GHz in 2005-2006. By comparison, the fastest Pentium 4 processor today is 1.5 GHz.