Intel has joined with Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor in an effort to ease a move from 300-mm wafers to 450-mm wafers, which will enable each to increase production and maybe even lessen their impact on the environment.
The three chipmakers have each agreed to make sure pilot 450mm wafers are ready for testing by 2012 and for full production by 2014.
Intel spokeswoman Kari Aakre says there is no formal alliance between the three firms, but they have agreed on the common timeline and to make sure that test equipment and components are ready in time. "In talking with them, we all agreed we need to make the transition happen, so we're going to work together," she says. "There are a lot of moving parts and we all need to be moving forward together."
Akari says the chipmakers will be able to produce twice as many chips on a 450-mm wafer as they can on a 300-mm wafer today.
In 2001, Intel began a one-and-a-half to two-year move from 200-mm wafers to today's 300-mm size.
"When you move to a larger wafer, you get more chips for a lower cost," Aakre says. "There's obviously the cost advantage, but you also use fewer resources. You're producing larger wafers and getting more out of them, so you're not using as many resources, such as energy and water. We become more efficient."
Dan Olds, an analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group, says moving to 450-mm wafers is a natural progression in the chip industry. "The bottom line is that while this will require some pretty big investments in new equipment to produce the new, much larger wafer, the payback will be pretty significant — higher yields, lower cost per wafer, higher production," he says.
"It's important in that it will bring new economies of scale to the fabs. Where they could get around 2,600 chips per wafer with 300-mm, they'll be able to get almost 6,000 chips per wafer at 450-mm. The costs to produce the 450-mm wafer will be higher because of new equipment and dyes, etcetera, but the costs per chip produced will be much lower," Olds says.
Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research, says moving to a 450-mm wafer is a smart move financially.
"The more dye you get per wafer, the better the economics," he says. "It will give them lower costs. They can drop their prices and compete more with AMD in terms of pricing, or they can keep their prices the same and get more profit. They'll probably split the difference between the two," he says.