Intel Video Showcases How a 10nm CPU Gets Built
I’m not normally one for just writing up a company-produced video, but a recent Intel release on how 10nm chips get built is instructive enough to merit a mention.
The video below steps through the various parts of the chip-manufacturing process on Intel’s 10nm product line. It steps through these processes in more detail than you typically get from a high-level marketing video and shows some of the specific manufacturing steps that take place from silicon boule to finished product.
There’s also additional data on Contact over Active Gate, and how the manufacturing steps for that process factor into Intel’s semiconductor manufacturing. Some of the steps shown here, like the automated containers moving product hither and yon without the need for human intervention using Front Opening Unified Pods (FOUPS), echo what I saw when I toured GlobalFoundries several years ago, just before that company announced it would be leaving the leading edge.
Intel kicks off the transistor manufacturing method discussing by referring back to gate-last transistor technology, which debuted almost a decade ago at the 28nm node. At the time, the discussion was over whether TSMC/Intel would have an advantage with gate-last at that node, or if the gate-first approach championed by GlobalFoundries and IBM would be more successful. History and shipping volumes decisively validated the gate-last model.
From there, the video spends time discussing both FinFETs and Contact Over Active Gate (COAG), the new technology Intel introduced at 10nm to reduce die size without shrinking other aspects of the node.
COAG has been rumored to be one of the major reasons Intel has struggled with 10nm, due to the intrinsic difficulty of shrinking this aspect of transistor design without harming other aspects of the chip. The process relies on self-aligned diffusion to form a tight contact. COAG is reported to have limited Intel’s scaling, with the technology working at low performance / low-power or high performance / very high power, but not for much in-between. These reports are over a year old now, but Intel still hasn’t said anything about using 10nm for desktop chips, only for servers and laptops.
Then again, Cooper Lake’s lower-end chips also just got canceled, implying that 10nm may have turned a corner on some of its 10nm woes (or, alternately, that the firm is forecasting drastically reduced demand as a result of coronavirus). Right now, it’s all difficult to disentangle, but if you’re looking for something that isn’t coronavirus-related but still involves hot physics action at the nanoscale, a 10nm video is far from the worst way to pass the time.