Intel has announced that it has joined with two other chipmakers in an effort to ease a move from 300mm wafers to 450mm wafers, which will enable each to increase production and maybe even lessen their impact on the environment.
Intel, Samsung Electronics and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company have each agreed to make sure pilot 450mm wafers are ready for testing by 2012 and for full production by 2014.
Intel spokesperson, Kari Aakre, noted that there was no formal alliance between the three firms, but they had agreed on the common timeline and to ensure that test equipment and components were 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 said. "There are a lot of moving parts and we all need to be moving forward together."
Aakre said that the chipmakers could produce twice as many chips on a 450mm wafer as they can on a 300mm wafer today.
In 2001, Intel began a one-and-a-half to two-year move from 200mm wafers to today's 300mm size.
"When you move to a larger wafer, you get more chips for a lower cost," Aakre said. "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."
Gabriel Consulting Group analyst, Dan Olds, said moving to 450mm 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 said.
"It's important in that it will bring new economies of scale to the fabs. Where they could get around 2600 chips per wafer with 300mm, they'll be able to get almost 6000 chips per wafer at 450mm. The costs to produce the 450mm wafer will be higher... but the costs per chip produced will be much lower," Olds said.