Looking into Intel’s new fab

The 40-minute video I linked to earlier with a tour by Intel Senior Fellow Mark Bohr has lots of interesting facts:

  1. The fab is three-football fields big and is the first of several fabs that’ll be exact copies of this one around the world (Israel and Arizona were specifically mentioned).
  2. It’s one of the cleanest rooms in the world.
  3. My camera is too “dirty” to get into the fab.
  4. Intel secret? They won’t tell me how many chips fit on a wafer. They also wouldn’t tell me how many chips a single fab could produce.
  5. 4:33: a piece of hair is huge compared to a nanometer. A red blood cell is 5,000 nanometers big. A transistor on the new chips is 45 nanometers.
  6. The real advance here is High-K dielectrics (link goes to Wikipedia). Good description of what that means is at 6:10.
  7. The new gate, above the dielectric (see technical discussion and photos about 26 minutes into the video) is based on hafnium (link goes to Wikipedia).
  8. Transistors up to now were created using silicon dioxide. Hafnium-based Metal Gates are much harder to manufacture, which is why it took so long. Intel is the first company to do this process.
  9. How many steps does a processor go through to be built? More than 50.
  10. How long does it take to make a 45 nm processor? “A few weeks.”
  11. There are eight copper interconnect layers on the new chips.
  12. The modern chip has 200 to 300 million transistors. The first chip Intel made had only 2,000 transistors.
  13. You can see the “clean/dirty” barrier in the cleanroom at about 11:10 in the video. On one side you need to be suited up and wearing booties to keep dirt on your shoes from contaminating the clean room, on the other, street clothes are OK.
  14. About a thousand technicians and engineers will work in the cleanroom, which works 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
  15. Most equipment is fully automated now. Workers don’t touch the wafers anymore like in the old days. A robot takes wafers around the fab line between “tools,” which, really, are entirely encased machines which do only a portion of the process needed to produce a processor.
  16. If you see a fab from the outside, 15:20, you’ll see a variety of pipes which mostly bring air into and outside of the plant.
  17. Mark has worked at Intel for 29 years and he talks at 17:00 about the differences between processor manufacturing then and now. Discusses how important “yields” are to processor manufacturers.
  18. Fibbing is an focused ion beam that engineers can use to “connect” small details on a chip. Mark says they don’t do that on chips they sell, but do use that on prototype processors to correct design errors for testing purposes.
  19. 19:46, discussion of what a “new fab” means.
  20. At 21:15 you get a look into the fab through one of several windows that exist on the side of the fab. I love the sign on the window. It says “no cameras.”
  21. The fab is three levels, we only got to see one (the clean room).
  22. 22:40, I asked Mark what he’s proudest of on the 45 nm processors. He answered the High-K dielectric which, he says, represents the biggest change in transistor manufacture since the 1960s.
  23. 22:30, discussion of “leakage,” which affects how power-efficient, and cool, a chip can be. Mark says that leakage has been reduced by a factor of five to 10 times. Translation: your battery will last longer!
  24. Discussion of competition at 25:20. “That’s some of the excitement of working in this industry.”
  25. 26:15 photos of “old, 65 nm” and “new, 45 nm” transistors and a technical, but understandable, discussion of how transistors work on a processor.
  26. Admission, at 28:30, that the first chips have already been produced and properly ran Windows.
  27. Intel, Mark says, has been working on this process for about three years.
  28. 30:30: discussion of the people involved.
  29. Discussion of key steps along the way. 31:21.
  30. At 36:30 Mark tells us what the secrets of Intel are.
  31. Mark takes us through some photos of older technology at about 38 minutes into the video.

What would you ask if you got a chance to get a tour of Intel?

More on Intel’s announcement

Reuters: Moore’s Law seen extended in chip breakthrough.

I’ll add more as I find more links. Oh, there already is a bunch over on Google News. Speaking of Google, did you notice they switched back to Intel chips? I bet it had a LOT to do with Penryn, because they use less power. If you’re Google one of your biggest costs is power in a data center. Remember, you shove hundreds of thousands of computers in a building and you start having real power issues.

One funny story? I couldn’t get into the fab. Why? My camera is too “dirty.” It would have destroyed thousands of chips. The fab is one of the cleanest rooms in the world.

Getting a look at Intel’s new 45nm fab

Here’s Intel’s Senior Fellow, Mark Bohr, showing me around the new Intel 45 nm fab up near Portland, Oregon.

Some parts of this are boring (he takes me into the part of the fab where workers put on their “bunny suits”) but others are real interesting, including a discussion of the technology behind how they shrunk transistors to 45nm.

[podtech content=http://media.podtech.net/media/2007/01/PID_010055/Podtech_Intel_45NM_part1.flv&postURL=http://www.podtech.net/scobleshow/technology/1329/intel-says-goodbye-to-silicon-dioxide-in-new-45-nanometer-fab&totalTime=2421000&breadcrumb=3F34K2L1]

And here’s Kelin Kuhn, who is the 45 nanometer device group manager. She runs the test lab where they figure out how to improve yields. That’s very important to Intel’s business. A little-known fact is that not every processor on a wafer is useable. The higher the percentage of usable processors, the more profitable Intel will be. It’s Kelin’s job to increase that yield. She’s a real impressive person and hope you enjoy meeting her as much as I did.

[podtech content=http://media.podtech.net/media/2007/01/PID_010056/Podtech_Intel_45NMlab_part2.flv&postURL=http://www.podtech.net/scobleshow/technology/1330/testing-out-intels-new-45-nanometer-processors&totalTime=444000&breadcrumb=3F34K2L1]

Of course, what does this all mean? By the end of 2007 companies like Apple and Dell will be able to bring out computers that are faster, use less power, and are cheaper to produce.

Congrats to the Intel team for getting 45nm done. It’s an impressive technical achievement and one that most of us don’t really appreciate when turning on our machines.

Here’s John Markoff’s article about the new Intel announcements in the New York Times.

UPDATE: PodTech produced a more professional video about these announcements.

Your next Mac processor: Intel builds first 45nm transistors

Intel just smacked Moore’s law around a bit. They just announced they built the world’s first 45 nanometer transistors as part of the project code-named “Penryn.”

Let’s go into just how small that is. Hundreds could fit on the surface of single red blood cell.

How did they do it?

They got rid of silicon dioxide and introduced a new High-K dielectric. That’s all scientific gobbledy-good for saying they found a way to make transistors smaller, faster, and more power efficient.

OK, why did I say “Mac” in the headline? Cause my friends who are studying Digg say that you’re 30% more likely to get Dugg if you use the word “Mac” in a headline. Just kidding.

Anyway, I’ll have videos up shortly. I’ll just say that the Intel folks are very proud of what they just built. They say it puts them a year or two ahead of the competition.

According to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, as quoted on the Intel site, “The implementation of high-k and metal materials marks the biggest change in transistor technology since the introduction of polysilicon gate MOS transistors in the late 1960s.”

A little taste of Stanford Linear Accelerator tour…

Shel Israel came along on the tour we got earlier this week of the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) with Bebo White, one of the members of the team that built the first US Web site, and he wrote it up.

If you’ve visited Silicon Valley and drove down freeway 280 you’ve actually driven over SLAC. It’s that really long building in Menlo Park right near Sand Hill Road (if you’ve pitched a VC there, you’ve been within a few hundred yards of the two-mile-long building that sits on top of the accelerator).

It’ll take me a while to get the video up. I have a ton of videos in the can, so it’s scheduled to run Feb. 7th.

Speaking of stuff that’s been in the can for a while is my Intel 45 nanometer fab tour. That’ll be up tonight along with some Intel news.

Thanks Shel for writing up our tour and taking some pictures. Oh, and can’t wait to get the rest of the tour (it was so interesting that we ran out of time and out of tape).

One lasting impression: I’ve felt far smaller all week. Partly because of the intellects of the people we met. Partly because of what they are studying (forces and particles that haven’t been produced, or at least measured, since the creation of our universe). Partly because of the history of this place and the scale. It’s interesting that we need to build two-mile-long buildings to study things we can’t even see.

Thanks to Bebo White for arranging this tour. It had a profound effect on my life and I’ll never forget it. Sitting at the feet of Paul F. Kunz, author of the first Web site in the United States, was like sitting in church. It was a special moment. I love that he didn’t think the Web was that big a deal. Even assigned someone else to build the first US Web site. Remember, these are physicists who were more excited about smashing particles and studying what happens.

I’m thinking we should do a photowalking tour of SLAC. Would you like to go on a tour?

UPDATE: Wikipedia says that SLAC is the longest straight object in the world.

Windows Vista vs. Mac OSX, the two-hour definitive word

I remember having great discussions about Microsoft vs. Apple back in the 1980s and 1990s. We all survived those years without too many hurt feelings.

So, I thought it’d be fun to do it again in 2007 now that Microsoft is shipping Windows Vista. Yeah, fresh meat for the whole debate! (Or was that just the burritos we were eating?) This presented an interesting opportunity to invite four interesting people over to the house last night who would give me insights from both sides of the aisle. Of course Maryam and I gave them some social lubricant and Tres Amigos’ burritos, and recorded it. We burned through two tapes (almost two hours). One thing that’s a given in our industry: we’ll never tire of talking about Apple vs. Microsoft. Even, when, as Fred Davis points out below, there’s not all that much to talk about (the discussions were a lot more fun back in 1989 when there was a truly huge difference between the two OS’s).

Oh, yeah, my Media Center disconnected six times in two hours (I was playing pictures). Something is wrong with my wifi and I gotta figure it out. Sam enjoyed that a lot. It’s always fun when the other guy’s stuff isn’t working right.

So, who were the players?

Fred Davis. Co-founder of Wired Magazine. Here’s his report of the evening.
Sam Levin. Co-founder of the Stanford Mac user’s group, and the guy who does Cool Mac Picks.
Harry McCracken, Editor in Chief of PC World. Also does PC World’s Techlog. Don’t tell anyone, but he admitted to being a Mac user.
Jeremy Toeman. He used to work at SlingMedia and is very knowledgeable about all sorts of HD video stuff. Here’s his report of the evening.

I’ll get the two hours of video up on January 31st, which is when Vista launches.

Oh, and Loren, if you say my videos are long and boring, I’ll just make them longer and more boring, OK? :-)

Actually, you can skip right to the end for Maryam’s definitive word. I’ll remind you of that again when we get the videos up.