Intel shows how a 10nm processor goes “from sand to silicon”
Following its February video chronicling the journey a chip takes from concept to customer, Intel has posted another video offering a glimpse into its manufacturing process. The video was posted earlier this month and is well worth the watch, especially given Intel’s abundance of troubles at 10nm.
The subtle art of giving a pile of sand a brain is, well… complicated. As you’ll see in the video, a chip travels “hundreds of miles” along Intel’s automated lines as it goes from one tool to another. A processor (or wafer, rather) goes through more than 1,000 steps building up and forming transistors before it even heads off to die packaging.
Intel briefly goes over some of the technology that underpins its FinFET process, such as “Gate-Last” and High-K Metal Gate formation. There’s also a section that mentions Intel’s COAG (contact over active gate) technology, which has been rumored to have been a contributing factor in Intel’s troubles with 10nm yields.
The video then moves to the portion where dozens of interconnected wires are added to complete the circuit. To greatly over-simply things, resistance increases as transistors decrease in size, and scaling the wires to the transistors introduces other problems, like issues with electromigration. To combat this, Intel moved away from copper wiring to cobalt for interconnects.
Again, this is another move that has been rumored to have been problematic for Intel’s 10nm process.
Intel recently outlined how it believes it will be behind its competitors (primarily TSMC) in terms of process leadership for some time to come. It will take Intel until the end of 2021, when it rolls out its 7nm process — barring any problems — to reach process parity with TSMC. Intel doesn’t expect to gain process leadership again until 5nm, which as far as anyone can tell, will be 2023 at the earliest.