Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A New Wafer Standard For Chip Makers

The chip making industry is planning on increasing the wafer size for chip and power transistor production from the current 300 mm (about 12") to 450 mm (about 17 1/2") by 2012 according to eWeek Magazine.

Intel and Samsung, two of the world’s largest producers of semiconductors, are collaborating on new standards that will produce the world’s first 450-millimeter wafers starting in 2012.

The two companies, along with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), made the announcement on May 5. The switch to the larger wafers, according to a joint statement, will help the entire semiconductor industry move toward a new standard for manufacturing integrated circuits.

Currently, most of the world’s top semiconductor companies produce processors on industry-standard 300-mm wafers. The switch to the lager 450-mm wafers will allow companies such as Intel and Samsung to double the amount of processors they can put on a single wafer.

This should help cut the cost of chip production, while reducing the amount of energy, water and other resources used in creating processors. For example, Intel was able to reduce the cost of its chip production when it switch from 200-mm to 300-mm wafers several years ago. The company achieved further savings when it reduced the individual processors from 65-nanometers to 45-nm.
This will mean a couple or three things. One is lower cost production of computer chips. Another is the possibility of more computing power per chip (more cores most likely). And finally cheaper power transistors or transistors with more power handling capacity (the amount of power a transistor can handle is a direct function of transistor area). The last part could help lower the cost of hybrid cars where power transistors are a critical element in the control of the electric motor that is part of the drive train.

1 comment:

Neil said...

This is huge.

The reason hybrid vehicles like the Prius don't gain much mileage over similar-sized cars is because their electric drive is too small.

For a hybrid to operate at maximum efficiency, the electric drivetrain should be sized to provide the total horsepower output under most acceleration conditions. The internal combustion engine can then be operated at its peak efficiency point at all times, regardless of the power required at the wheels.

Thus far, no car company has been able to make such a system cost-effective, because the power transistors required to drive the traction motor would be too expensive. Roughly speaking, the electric motor is sized to provide peaking power, and the IC engine provides the steady-state power under most conditions. Since driving conditions vary dynamically, the IC engines have to shift their operating point around more than is optimal.

If this new standard were to cut the price of IGBTs in half, we'd see some great things happen in the automotive world...