AMD Sets Sights on 45-nm

At CeBIT, AMD will offer demonstrations of its newest chip technology for servers and desktops.

AMD's first 45-nanometer processors are within sight.

At the 2008 CeBIT conference March 4 in Hannover, Germany, Advanced Micro Devices will demonstrate working 45-nm, quad-core processors in a number of systems, including four-socket servers. The codename for the server processor is "Shanghai," while the desktop chip is called "Deneb."

While AMD executives are willing to talk about these new chips at the show, Bill En, manager of the company's Logic Technology Group, did not offer a specific release date. For now, En said Shanghai and Deneb will launch in the second half of 2008.

To avoid the problems associated with the release of its quad-core Opteron processors - called Barcelona - in 2007, AMD is also ensuring that its OEM partners have test samples of the new chips well ahead of the official launch.

In addition to bringing Barcelona to the market later than expected, AMD disclosed that some of the processors contained a design bug that was part of the translation-lookaside buffer, which caused problems for data being transferred from the L2 to the L3 cache. By getting samples to OEMs faster, AMD is hoping to discover any problems before heading into full production.

"The parts that are being sampled are booting [Microsoft] Windows and we are running benchmarks and stress tests," En said. "Barcelona had some challenges and what we are trying to do now is highlight that we have working samples and that we have all the right pieces in place and the enhancements that we have included are working right. The processors are in the hands of our partners and we're communicating with them and checking on the results that they are getting."

The switch to 45-nm manufacturing gives chip makers, including Intel and AMD, several advantages. The process allows these companies to squeeze more processors on a single wafer than they could with 65-nm, which helps reduce cost and increase productivity.

Analysts also see other advantages.

"The biggest improvement with 45-nanometer is that it allows AMD to produce smaller, faster chips that use less power," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64. "Intel moved to 45-nanometer in the fourth quarter of 2007 and now AMD is roughly nine months behind them. AMD used to lag behind Intel by as much as 18 months, and they have managed to cut the lag time down."

The move to 45-nm also gets AMD closer to its goal of incorporating the CPU and the GPU (graphics processor unit) on the same piece of silicon. The company had called this project "Fusion," but it now refers to it as the Accelerated Processing Unit initiative.

"By shrinking the CPU with our 45-nm process, we are creating more room on the die for the graphics processor unit to enable a successful CPU/GPU integration at the silicon level, opening the door for a new class of x86 processing, the Accelerated Processing Unit," En wrote in an e-mail.

AMD's 45-nm processors will include several new pieces of chip technology that the company has been developing for the last several years. The new processors will use AMD's fourth-generation strained silicon technique. This part of the design pulls the silicon atoms far apart and allows the electrons to move faster, which increases performance.

The processor will also use a technology developed by both AMD and IBM called ultra low-K dielectrics, which improves performance by upwards of 15 percent by insulating the wires that connect the transistors within the microprocessor.

When Intel switched to 45-nm, the company's engineers came up with a high-K metal gate process that uses the element Hafnium, which reduces the amount of energy that leaks from transistors when they sit idle.

Finally, AMD will use a technique called immersion lithography within the manufacturing process. Unlike so-called "dry" lithography, this technique uses a tiny droplet of pure water to fill the space between the lens of the lithography system and the wafer when the circuitry is printed on the silicon.

Immersion lithography allows for more accuracy when printing the chips and allows AMD to produce processors with much more complex designs, En said.

"AMD felt that that there would be few constraints on its circuitry designs if it could create its immersion lithography technique first," Brookwood said.

The first of AMD's 45-nm processors will be manufactured at the company's Fab 36 in Dresden, Germany.