Intel goes unleaded, showing green way forward

45-nanometer chips will be first to be de-leaded

Intel will stop using lead in its upcoming microprocessors, eliminating one of the most toxic components used in semiconductors from its product line.

The de-leading process will start with the Penryn line of processors, which are made using a 45-nanometer process.

Chips made using a 65-nanometer process will follow next year.

Intel has been working to eliminate lead from its chips for several years, but development efforts have been costly. In 2005, an Intel executive revealed the company had spent US$100 million (NZ$137 million) to develop an alternative material to replace lead in solder used to package chips. The goal at that time was to be lead-free by 2010.

While Intel appears to have beaten that projection, the company did not reveal the total cost of eliminating lead from its processors. Lead is a toxic metal but has a combination of electrical and mechanical properties that make it useful for semiconductor manufacturing, the company says.

Intel first began removing lead from its products in 2002, when it started shipping flash memory that used lead-free solder made from tin, silver and copper. By 2004, the company had managed to replace most of the lead solder used in its chipsets and processors with the tin-silver-copper solder. However, it continued to use 0.02 grams of lead in the solder used inside these chips, connecting the silicon die to the chip package.

Intel plans to replace this tin-lead solder with solder that uses the tin-silver-copper alloy. The shift in solder materials will not affect the performance of the chips, the company says.

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