At this year’s IEEE International Electronics Conference (IEDM), chip giant Intel released a roadmap for the expansion of manufacturing processes for the next decade from 2019 to 2029, including a 1.4nm manufacturing process by 2029,media reported. Intel expects its manufacturing process node technology to continue to pace at a two-year pace, starting with a 10nm process in 2019 to moving to 7nm EUV (extreme uv lithography) in 2021, then 5nm in 2023, 3nm in 2025, 2nm in 2027 and 1.4nm by 2029.
This is the first time Intel has mentioned a 1.4nm process, equivalent to the position occupied by 12 silicon atoms, and thus confirms Intel’s direction.
Perhaps it is worth noting that at this year’s IEDM conference, some of the presentations involved a technology measuring 0.3 nanometers, using so-called “2D self-assembling” materials. Although this is not the first time such a process has been heard of, it is the first time such a process has been mentioned in the manufacture of silicon chips. Obviously, Intel (and its partners) have a lot of problems to overcome.
Technology iteration and reverse porting
Between the two generations of process nodes, Intel will introduce an iterative version of the process plus and the process to extract as much optimized performance as possible from each node. The only exception is the 10nm process, which is already in the 10 plus version stage, so we’ll see the 10 plus and 10 plus versions in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Intel believes that they can do this every year, but also have overlapping teams to ensure that a complete process node can overlap with another.
What’s interesting about Intel’s roadmap is that it mentions “back porting.” This is a process node capability that should be taken into account when designing a chip. Although Intel says it is separating chip designs from process node technology, at some point the process node process is locked in order to start laying out in silicon, especially when it enters mask creation, so it is not easy to implement.
However, the roadmap shows that Intel will allow for a workflow where any first-generation 7nm design can be reverse-ported to a 10-plus version, any first-generation 5nm design can be reverse-ported to a 7-plus version, then 3nm reverse porting to 5? and 2nm reverse porting to 3, and so on. One might say that the roadmap may not be so restrictive on dates, and we’ve seen Intel’s 10nm technology take a long time to mature, so it seems too optimistic to expect the company to update at a one-year pace at major process technology nodes over a two-year period.
Note that this is not the first time a “reverse port” hardware design has been mentioned when it comes to Intel. With Intel’s 10nm process technology currently in a latency phase, there is widespread rumor that some of Intel’s future CPU microarchitecture designs could end up using a very successful 14nm process.
Research and development efforts
Typically, as process nodes develop, different teams are required to do the work of each node. This roadmap states that Intel is currently developing its 10-plus optimization and 7nm series of processes. The idea is that from a design perspective, each generation of updates for the plus version can be easily implemented, because this number represents the full node advantage.
Interestingly, we see that Intel’s 7nm process is based on a 10-plus version, and Intel believes that the future 5nm process will also be based on the design of the 7nm process and the 3nm based on the 5nm design. There is no doubt that some optimizations for each iteration of the s/s will be ported to future designs when needed.
In this roadmap, we see that Intel’s 5nm process is still in the defining stages. There was a lot of discussion about the 5nm process at this IEDM conference, so some of these improvements (e.g. manufacturing, materials, consistency, etc.) will eventually be applied to Intel’s 5nm process, depending on which design companies they work with (historically Applied Materials).
In addition to 5nm process development, we can also look at Intel’s 3nm, 2nm and 1.4nm process blueprints, which are currently in “path-finding” mode. Looking ahead, Intel is considering new materials, new transistor designs, and more. It is also worth noting that, based on the new roadmap, Intel clearly still believes in Moore’s Law.